Rising use of service dogs leads to lawsuits - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Rising use of service dogs leads to lawsuits

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

More Hawaii residents are filing legal challenges after being turned away from stores or other places because they have a service dog.

The problem is one being seen nationally, and is believed to be at least partly related to the use of service dogs for a growing number of health concerns.

In addition, there's no agency in the United States that keeps track of or certifies trained service dogs, which makes it difficult to say how many service dogs there are in different locations.

Attorney Lunsford Phillips, who specializes in disability law, said he has six active cases involving service dog owners currently. And he gets at least two calls a month from people interested in filing suit.

The Americans with Disabilities Act says a service dog is allowed "in all areas where the public is normally allowed to go."

Business owners who don't comply could be found guilty of discrimination.

But some people are abusing the situation, putting service dog identifiers on their family pets. Meanwhile, more people are getting service dogs for new types of conditions. 

"There are diabetic alert dogs. Seizure alert dogs. There are dogs that are trained to medically identify those symptoms," said Jim Kennedy, executive director of Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs.

Phillips said under the law, if a dog is trained to help someone with a disability "that's a service animal."

The difficulty for store owners comes in figuring out who has a service dog and who's trying to game the system.

So how can business owners determine if an animal is a service dog?

"You ask. You ask a person is this a service animal," Phillips said.

Added Kennedy, “The other question is, What specific task has this dog been trained to perform? 

Plus, "Service dogs are generally not carried in purses. They're not carried in grocery carts in the child's seat."

For more information on the ADA, click here

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