Have you noticed lately how hard it is to go anywhere without running into people with their dogs? And I don’t mean on the streets and in the parks, though evidence of Rover’s presence in such locales is pervasive. One can’t take a stroll after sunset anymore without a flashlight and hip waders, as Benji’s remains seem to be everywhere these days.

No, I mean have you noticed that dogs are showing up with their “guardians” (not “owners,” if you want to be politically correct) in restaurants, malls, shops, and even grocery stores and movie theaters? Hey, I love dogs, but I think federal and California laws on this subject might be turning “man’s best friend” into “everyone’s biggest annoyance.”

All business owners providing any sort of public accommodations are well aware of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. If they didn’t get the word when it was passed some 20 years ago, they probably got it when they were sued for having a mirror in the restroom hanging an inch too high or when they couldn’t get a permit to resurface the parking lot of their 50-year-old sporting goods store employing five people and barely making ends meet without also installing a $20,000 access ramp for all three of their disabled customers.

Well, the ADA also makes it unlawful to deny access to public facilities to “service animals,” which is especially broadly defined in California to include “psychiatric service animals.” Almost any sort of animal one legally can possess in California (ferrets need not apply) can be a “service animal.” There are no established criteria for obtaining a training certificate. And as far as getting some sort of evaluation entitling one to have a “psychiatric” animal, well, let’s just be reminded how hard it is to get a prescription for medical marijuana in this state.

What really complicates things for public accommodation businesses is that they can get sued if they ask for proof of service animal training, require any sort of special tag to identify the animal as a “service” animal or ask the “guardian” about the nature of his or her disability. That’s right – in California we still have “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but just for service animals.

I have a tough enough time following someone else’s sneezing kid to the Sizzler salad bar without also having to sit in the booth I just saw vacated by Fido and his “Where have you been?” paws. Half the people I see with dogs in stores are carrying them, leaving me to wonder how much the owners paid for “training” what by law are not supposed to be “pets.” Hey, I am the first to say “All make way” for the blind fellow with the cane and the red-vested German shepherd, but excuse me if I don’t hold the door for the glamour puss carrying her “working dog” in a Gucci bag.

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