Seminar for businesses explains service dog laws

service dog
Jenn Gavin works with a service dog. (Jan. 12, 2018)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids business owners have the chance Saturday to learn about service dog laws in Michigan.

The free workshop is designed to help businesses understand their rights when clients with service dogs come visit.

It comes after a veteran was turned away from The Holiday Bar in November when he tried bringing his service dog in. The Holiday Bar later apologized.

Jenn Gavin started her business A Pleasant Dog a few years ago when her son was diagnosed with autism. In addition to offering Puppy 101 classes and private lessons, she trains service dogs.

That’s why she thought she could help when she heard the social media backlash and community confusion after management at the Holiday Bar refused to serve a veteran and his service dog.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised. When we’re out training our service dogs-in-training, we frequently are asked to leave because most business owners don’t know the state of the law,” said Gavin.

It can be hard for business owners to know if they’re being taken in by a person who just didn’t want to leave man’s best friend home alone or if the person has a legal right to be accompanied by the dog.

“People with invisible illnesses like autism or diagnoses like autism or sometimes our hearing-impaired clients have more difficulty. People with epilepsy, diabetes can have difficulties getting into places with their service dogs,” Gavin said.

Laws vary from state and state and there’s no certification for service dogs. A service dog doesn’t have to wear a vest — though in Michigan, you can apply to get your service dog an official Registered Service Animal identification card and patch.

Complicating the issue, Gavin said, is what she calls an “epidemic” of fake service dogs.

“What we frequently hear from public is, ‘My emotional support animal is allowed in the same public place I am,’ and that is absolutely not true, unfortunately,” Gavin said.

On Saturday, business owners are encouraged to gather at The Holiday Bar on 5th Street NW from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. to get their questions answered. A lawyer will also be on hand.

The full Americans With Disabilities Act law is available online.