The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) recently became effective and is applicable to facilities and areas of public access. The Regulatory Enforcement and Animal Care staff in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service became involved in the application of the ADA to zoos and its potential conflict with the Animal Welfare Act in regard to the use of service animals (for example, seeing eye dogs) in zoos. Meetings were held with USDA's Office of the General Counsel and with attorneys from the Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice, to work out a way to handle such conflicts and comply with the ADA. A position statement was provided by the Department of Justice in regard to the use of service animals in public areas and is reprinted below for the guidance of facilities that allow public access.
The ADA requires zoos and other facilities to make reasonable modifications in their regular policies, practices, and procedures when necessary to afford an individual with disability the same goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered to others. Generally, zoos and other facilities must permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability. Any limitations on the use of service animals in zoos and other facilities where animals are exhibited must be shown by the zoo to be necessary for safe operation.
Each facility needs to make its own analysis of its circumstances, and the determinations are very likely to differ from facility to facility depending on the types of animals and the configurations of the facilities. Facilities that wish to restrict service animals in any way should make a careful assessment of each area to determine where safety concerns justify restricting the access of persons with their service animals. Unsubstantiated fears about potential risks will not suffice to justify the exclusion of service animals from areas open to the general public."
It is not likely that a total ban of service animals from the entire facility can ever be justified. There are many zoo facilities that permit service animals in all parts of their facilities apparently without problems.
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The Animal Welfare Information Center
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Research Service
National Agricultural Library
10301 Baltimore Ave.
Beltsville, MD 20705-2351
Phone: (301) 504-6212
FAX: (301) 504-5181
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