Updated: Nov 5, 2020
By Sarah Everhart
At the Agriculture Law Education Initiative we often educate farmers whose farms are open to the public and the farm operators typically share a common concern, namely, what to do when a customer wants to bring an animal onsite, to assist with a disability or to provide emotional or therapeutic support, despite a “no pets” policy? There are many reasons to exclude pets from a farm that is open to the public, chief among them, food safety and liability concerns, however, it is important to understand when a customer has a legal right to bring an animal onto the farm despite a “no pets” policy.
There are federal and state laws that define the term service animal. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (28 CFR § 35.104), a service animal “is any dog individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Trained miniature horses may also be service animals under the ADA. Maryland law defines as service animal as “a guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including:
(1) guiding individuals with impaired vision;
(2) alerting individuals with impaired hearing to an intruder or sounds;
(3) providing minimal protection or rescue work;
(4) pulling a wheelchair;
(5) fetching dropped items; or
(6) detecting the onset of a seizure.”
By law, service animals and their handlers must be allowed entry to any place where members of the public are allowed. Even if the operation has a “no pets” policy, it is against the law to deny entry to a person with a service animal. Although it may be advisable for an operation to have a “no pets” policy, because service animals are not pets they are no impacted by such a policy. Farms that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
Service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls. According to the ADA, a service animal may be excluded or asked to leave if it poses a direct health or safety risk to others or if the animal is out of the owner’s control and the owner cannot take effective action to control it. Maryland law provides a service animal may be excluded if admitting the animal would create a clear danger of a disturbance or physical harm to an individual in the place. Allergies or fears of the animal are not sufficient reasons to exclude a service animal.
When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, you cannot ask for documentation for the animal and only limited inquiries are allowed. The only two questions that may be asked are: (1) is the animal a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
Operators of farms open to the public should be very careful when dealing with service animals. In Maryland, denying entry to a service animal can result in a misdemeanor and a fine not to exceed $500.
Emotional Support/Therapy Animals
By contrast, emotional support or therapy animals are not considered service animals under the ADA. In some cases, owners of emotional support animals get documentation which allows them to bring the animals on airplanes. Unlike a service animal, however, an emotional support animal is not granted access to public places unless there is a state or local law granting access.