By JASMINE WATTS
Capital News Service
LANSING — Miniature horses and dogs working as service animals will have easier access to public places thanks to a recent state law.
The changes, sponsored by Sens. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, \Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, and Rep. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, makes it easier for businesses to identify dogs and miniature horses that are service animals.
A service animal is trained to help someone with a disability. Owners of such animals can apply to the state to receive an identification card and registered service animal patch.
Prior to March 2011, all assistance animals were included in the Americans With Disabilities Act. However, officials sought changes after receiving complaints of a service pig squealing uncontrollably on an airplane.
The new law includes only dogs and miniature horses. Miniature horses, 24 to 34 inches tall at the shoulders and weighing between 70 and 100 pounds, are acceptable under the law only when they are not an inconvenience to the business.
The assessment factors that make miniature horses acceptable are whether they are housebroken and under the owner’s control, whether the facility can accommodate them and whether it will compromise the safe operation of the facility.
“I really hope people register. It makes life so much easier,” said Sharon Ellis, the state compliance director for the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Businesses don’t quite understand the law. It can be confusing. Businesses want to welcome people with service animals, too, but under the right circumstances.”
“By registering it makes people more clear, educated and comfortable with service animals being around,” Ellis said. “The public will also know that these animals are working, not pets. They won’t try to pet them or take pictures of them.”
Some existing service dog agencies welcome the changes to the law, such as Paws With a Cause in Wayland that breeds and trains service dogs.
“This law came about from people trying to pass pets as service dogs,” said Deb Davis, the community outreach manager at Paws With a Cause.
“The patch creates an overall visual awareness in the state of Michigan that these animals are true service animals and not pets. We are in support of anything that makes access easier for our clients,” Davis said.
Under the law, employees of public places are allowed to ask only two questions if they are unsure if an animal is a service animal:
o Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability?
o What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
The law has been in effect since Jan. 18. Ellis said since then, no person with a service animal has filed a complaint about not being allowed entry into a public place.
So far, 40 applications have been submitted for animal identification cards and 25 patches have been distributed.
Registration of service animals is voluntary. Several other states have already adopted similar registration, including North Carolina and California.
People with service animals can register them at http://www.michigan.gov/mdcr/0,4613,7-138-74964—,00.html.
By JASMINE WATTS