Park Spy — Winter 2024


The question: I want to come zip lining and I have a service dog that almost never leaves my side. Can she join me on the tour? Is there a way to accommodate us?

Per ADA guidelines, businesses that serve the public must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities using their facilities—with some exceptions. The ADA does not overrule legitimate safety requirements, and if admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited. So, you aren’t required to allow a service dog on your course (even if there is some limited precedent for zip-lining dogs: see Oakley, the resident Ozark Mountain Ziplines office dog whose YouTube video of her
zip-lining tandem in her canine harness with her human went viral this fall).

A “no pets allowed” policy is not a reason to prohibit service animals from your facility. But there are legitimate safety concerns to allowing a service dog on a course—for example, as Carlsbad Caverns National Park writes on its FAQs page, “most service animals have not been trained to climb ladders, use ropes, and belly crawl.” And most operators don’t have a supply of canine harnesses ready to deploy. 

Of course, you do need to be prepared to allow service animals in the parts of your facility where their presence will not result in a fundamental alteration. And it is good practice to be as welcoming and accommodating as possible to all guests. So, you’d expect that all staff were warm, friendly, and helpful to the Spy … not.

Been asked an interesting question lately? Send it to [email protected] for the Spy to pose to other parks! We won’t tell anyone the question came from you. Plus, if we use it, your park will be immune for that issue.

Park #1, TN

First Contact: Female.

API: Stated question.

Staff: (chipper) Let me ask. I am going to put you on hold for just a second. 

API: OK. Thank you. (on hold for a minute)

Staff: I am sorry, there is actually no way that we can have a service dog with you. Since it can’t zip across, we have no way of getting it from platform to platform.

API: OK. Thank you.

Staff: (very sincere) Yes, again I am really sorry.

API: That’s OK. Thank you.

Staff: You’re welcome, goodbye. 

Score: 6

Comment: This response was delivered with empathy. I appreciate that she took the time to find the answer.



First Contact: Male.

API: Stated question.

Staff: Um (long pause), we don’t really have any kind of harness or allow animals or pets to go onto the course itself.


Staff: Yeah, it’s more of a safety issue.

API: Yes, I understand. What if I had a friend come and she could sit with him while I go on the zip line?

Staff: (hesitant) Yeah, that should be fine.

API: OK. Thank you.

Staff: Yep, goodbye.

Score: 2

Comment: He didn’t try to make me feel welcome. In fact, he seemed to minimize the idea of a service dog. Friendly reminder: Service dogs are not pets. 



First Contact: Male.

API: Stated question.

Staff: So, the dog wouldn’t be able to come up onto the course is the main issue.


Staff: (sincere) Um, there is no real way for us to safely secure a dog while we are up on the course. Unless the dog weighs quite a bit, they wouldn’t have enough weight on their own to make it all the way down the line. 

API: Oh, OK.

Staff: Yes, so unfortunately that wouldn’t really work.

API: What if I had a friend stay and watch him while I went on the zip line?

Staff: Yes, that would work. Our zip line tours are on a set schedule so you would have to do the tour at a set time, and if your friend wanted to zip line, too, they would have to wait for the next tour.

API: OK, thank you.

Staff: Yep, is there anything else I can help you with?

API: No, that was it. Thanks again.

Staff: Yep, goodbye.

Score: 7

Comment: It was helpful and thoughtful for him to outline the legitimate safety concern with allowing my service dog on the course. A really proactive employee would have told me where my service dog would be allowed at the facility. 



First Contact: Male.

API: Stated question.

Staff: (chuckles) You see, I don’t have a harness for the dog, so I don’t think that will work.

API: OK, I understand.

Staff: You know, I am not really sure there are any zip line courses that actually allow the dogs to zip line. 

API: (awkward) OK, yeah, I wasn’t sure.

Staff: I mean, yeah, that’s a tough one. (laughs)

API: If I brought my friend with me and she watched my dog while I zip lined, would that be OK?

Staff: Yeah, I mean, that’s 100 percent up to you guys. And you know, we can take the dog up on the course. I just don’t have a way for him to zip line. You know what I mean?

API: Sure.

Staff: Yeah, the dog can go up on the course and your friend can walk him around while you ride. He can go up on platform one while you ride one and two, and then you can rejoin him at platform three. Then you will take off and do four and five, and the dog can be there still at the same deck. Then you will do the rest, and you can then rejoin with them again.

API: Oh, wow, that would be great.

Staff: Yeah, it’s not like he has to be locked up in the car.

API: Exactly. Now, should I call before we come to give you a heads up?

Staff: You can book it online and then just give us a call and let us know that “hey, I have a service dog that I am going to have as a non-rider” and then we can definitely accommodate you from that point.

API: Perfect, thank you for your help.

Staff: No problem, have a great day.

Score: 6

Comment: It seemed at first that he was laughing at my question, but he definitely turned it around, explaining how they could accommodate my service dog while I zip lined. 



First Contact: Female.

API: Stated question.

Staff: (rude) Um, well the dog can’t go on the zip line.


Staff: We just don’t have a harness for a dog. 

API: Oh, OK. Would it be OK if my friend came and watched the dog while I zip lined.

Staff: (still rude) Yeah, I guess that would be fine.

API: Um, OK, thank you.

Staff: Yep, goodbye.

Score: 1 

Comment: Being rude is never OK.



First Contact: Male.

API: Stated question.

Staff: Umm, let me think. (pause) Unfortunately, we cannot have dogs on the course. 


Staff: I mean, can he just hang out? 

API: I don’t really want to leave him unsupervised.

Staff: Oh, of course.

API: What if I had my friend come with me and watch him? Would that be OK?

Staff: (excited) Oh, definitely. We are completely dog friendly. I just don’t have enough staff here to be able to offer you somebody to watch your dog.

API: Oh, no I totally understand.

Staff: I just wasn’t sure if somebody could sit with your dog if it was somebody other than you.

API: He isn’t very comfortable with strangers, but if my friend sat with him that could work.

Staff: Oh, definitely, that is completely fine. Are there any other accommodations that we need to make?

API: No, I don’t think so. I can bring whatever he will need for the day.

Staff: OK. Again, we are 100 percent dog friendly. We do have a large lawn that he can stay on and walk around. There is also a trail that is on our property that he could be walked on while you are on the course. Or he can hang on the lawn or our observation deck. 

API: Oh, great. Thank you so much for your help.

Staff: Of course! Have a great day.

Score: 8

Comment: I appreciated the desire to work with me—he was the only staffer who asked if I would need other accommodations. Plus, being cheerful is always the best approach. 

Identity Revealed: Flying Rabbit Adventures



In our winning call, the contact wondered aloud whether the dog could wait unaccompanied or with someone who wasn’t the prospective customer. Per the ADA, “a service dog must be under the control of its handler at all times. In most cases, the handler will be the individual with a disability or a third party who accompanies the individual with a disability.” 

Interestingly, not one person asked any follow-up questions about my service dog. That’s good, actually—by law, staff are not allowed to request any documentation for a service dog, require that a service dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability. Staff are, however, allowed to ask (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? 

Make sure staff are familiar with where and in what capacity your operation can accommodate service animals.  

Also, please, don’t be rude to callers simply because the answer to their question is, “no.” Try a little empathy on for size.


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