Today at Nickel Diner in downtown Los Angeles, I had nearly had lunch with a chihuahua in the restaurant. The pooch was perched atop the lap of its human, its head occasionally resting on the table.
Now I've seen dogs at eateries with outdoor patio dining. No big deal. But never have I seen a dog sitting at a restaurant table, as if it were an invited guest. Actually, the dog had all fours on the table at certain points during our mutual stay.
When I asked the manager about the restaurant's policy on pets at the table, she informed me that the humans offered certification that this mini-muffin of a canine was a service dog.
A service dog? What possible service could this timid and tentative creature possible offer? And offer from the arms of its owner.
To be clear, there is a legal distinction between service dogs, therapeutic dogs and pets. Service dogs, the American Disabilities Act states, are not pets. Service dogs are the only ones permitted anywhere its human goes.
I suspect that, since the male human with the long-haired chihuahua kissed its mouth, it wasn't on the job at the time. The dog's carrier also sat next to them on the booth. But, honestly, for all I know, the animal might have been a working animal. Although, again, I'm not sure what service a dog being kissed and carried can perform.
This experience, complete with the female human making sure to linger while holding the dog with its backside to my face as she passed to leave, got me to wondering what the standards and rules are related to service dogs.
As it turns out, your lap dog might just be a service dog -- if you say it is.
While several states offer certifications, there are no overarching standards for service dogs -- nothing legal and binding -- as far as I can tell. The ADA site states that:
- a proprietor cannot ask a patron about their disability, to prove or detail it;
- a proprietor cannot ask to see certification that the dog in question is actually a service animal;
- a proprietor cannot deny access to said pooch, unless it poses imminent danger or health hazard to other patrons -- allergies don't count.
However, the lack of certification requirements leave open wide chinks for unscrupulous pet owners to exploit something intended to protect the afflicted.
But there are consequences for falsely posing as a disabled person and claiming your precious pet is a service animal when it's not. The California Penal Code (Title 9, Chapter 12) states in section 365.7 is a misdemeanor:
(a) Any person who knowingly and fraudulently represents himself or herself, through verbal or written notice, to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as, to be qualified as, or identified as, a guide, signal, or service dog, as defined in subdivisions (d), (e), and (f) of Section 365.5 and paragraph (6) of subdivision (b) of Section 54.1 of the Civil Code, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.Of course, they have to prove, somehow, that you aren't disabled -- and that's something about which they can't even ask.
So, Paris Hilton -- and all you others with lap dogs you take everywhere -- Tinkerbell could be a service dog, if you say she is.