THE QUESTION: “I HAVE A SERVICE DOG, IS THERE A WAY FOR ME TO PARTICIPATE?”
It may seem silly to ask if a dog can ride a zip line, but where service animals are concerned, there’s a bit more to it.
Check out all the Park Spy missions here on our website and use them as training tools with your team! Have a question our Park Spy should ask? Send your question to Sarah Borodaeff (firstname.lastname@example.org) and if we use it, you’re immune for that issue!
Park #1, CA
First contact: Male.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Thanks so much for calling to ask. To help me clarify, are you looking to bring your animal on the zip line or are you just wanting to bring it on property?
API: Well, because I need to keep him with me for medical reasons, I would want to see if there’s a way for him to join me. He is a small poodle, and I often wear him in a chest harness during more physical activity.
Staff: May I ask what medical service the dog provides?
API: He monitors my insulin levels and notifies me of a drop so I can act accordingly.
Staff: OK, now that I understand let me check on that. Hold on just a moment.
Staff: Thanks for waiting. Unfortunately, as much as we would like to, we cannot accommodate both you and your dog on the zip line due to safety concerns. The harness that we use is a full body harness, meaning that it has shoulder straps that go up and over your head and those would prevent you wearing the harness for your service dog.
API: OK, thanks so much, I just wanted to check.
Staff: If you are able to participate without bringing him on the course, we could certainly make other accommodations, like providing a bag to carry any medications in.
API: Thanks! I will think about that.
Comment: Super friendly, clearly explained the safety concerns, and offered to make accommodations that may help. Nice job!
Park #2, TN
First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: (nervous) Ummm, you know, I am not really sure if that’s something we would be able to accommodate. We don’t typically allow pets on the course, and, I mean, I know that a service dog is not a pet. Can I ask if the dog is a medical support dog or an emotional service animal?
API: He’s a medical support dog.
Staff: OK, do you need him for mobility, because we do have some things we can do to make the course accessible for people with limited mobility.
API: No, he is a diabetes alert dog.
Staff: OK, umm, let me check.
Staff: Thanks for holding. Unfortunately I don’t think we could accommodate a dog on the course simply because we don’t have a way to properly secure him to the belay system and it wouldn’t be safe.
API: Not a problem. Thank you!
Comment: She was nervous answering the question, but she asked me the proper questions, which is good. A little more training and she’ll have this dialed.
Park #3, OH
First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Thank you so much for calling! Unfortunately, we cannot accommodate service animals on the zip line tour due to the need to have everyone harnessed into the belay system. However, you are more than welcome to bring your service animal to The Wilds and participate in the other activities, but we do ask that you call in advance to make arrangements so that we can ensure both your service animal and the animals in the park are safe, as many of our tours include up-close interactions with the animals.
API: Great. How would I go about making those arrangements?
Staff: If you have a date in mind I can help you with that.
API: Not at the moment, I am just trying to find information.
Staff: Great. In that case, just give us a call back at this same number when you have a specific date you would like to visit and we’d be more than happy to accommodate you and your service dog.
Comment: This operation gets a 10 because its staff is well trained and knowledgeable about this question. She was friendly and got straight to the point and clearly explained why a dog can’t ride a zip line.
Identity Revealed: The Wilds at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
We typically share the good and the not-so-good phone interactions in Park Spy. The good give us something to aspire to, and the not so good can give us a laugh, a cringe, and hopefully something to learn from.
This particular Park Spy mission is a tough one—not only are there guest service ramifications, there are also legal concerns when it comes to accessibility and service animals. We only published three of the calls here because they were all pretty good—unlike the rest of the calls, which were uncomfortably bad. So, instead of sharing those, we decided it would be more useful to share some definitions and rules that pertain to service animals.
WHAT IS A SERVICE ANIMAL?
According to the Department of Justice, a service animal is “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
What a service animal is not is an animal whose sole purpose is to provide emotional support, wellbeing, comfort, or companionship, or to serve as a crime deterrent. (28 C.F.R. Part 35.136)
This means the animal must be able to perform a task directly related to its handler’s disability in order to qualify for protection as a service animal. (There is also language to include other types of animals, such as miniature horses, as designated service animals, provided they perform one of the aforementioned services.)
HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY A SERVICE ANIMAL?
There is no documentation—certification or licensing, for example—required of service animals, and you cannot ask the handler to provide documentation. And service animals are not required to wear a tag or vest that identifies them as such.
But what about those dogs I see wearing vests?
Some handlers choose to outfit their animals so that Joe Public doesn’t run up and try to pet the animal and distract it from doing its job.
OK, so what can I ask?
When it’s not obvious what service the animal provides, you can ask two questions:
1. Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
You cannot ask about the person’s disability.
WHERE ARE SERVICE ANIMALS ALLOWED TO GO?
“Individuals with disabilities shall be permitted to be accompanied by their service animals in all areas of a public entity’s facilities and areas where members of the public, participants in services, programs or activities, or invitees, are allowed to go.” (20 C.F.R. Part 35.136) That means service animals are allowed in your welcome center, restaurant, retail shop, etc.
WHAT ABOUT MY ZIP LINE OR AERIAL ADVENTURE COURSE?
“A business open to the public may impose legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation. Safety requirements must be based on actual risks and not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities.” (36.301 Eligibility Criteria)
In laymen’s terms:
You’re not required to allow service animals to participate in any activity with safety requirements that would prevent an animal from participating. To the best of our knowledge, there is no way to safely harness a dog to a zip line, therefore you don’t have to allow service animals to participate in a zip line activity.
WHAT IF A GUEST ASKS IF HE OR SHE CAN BRING A SERVICE ANIMAL ON THE ZIP LINE?
While it might not happen often, it’s important to understand the rules. Train all staff members in what they can and cannot ask—as outlined here, it’s actually quite simple. And provide a clear explanation as to the safety requirements that would prevent a service animal from participating, i.e., the need for a safety harness that meets the manufacturer’s requirements.
Have more questions? Visit www.ada.gov for more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act.