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Sniffing out the truth about support animal laws in PA

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Want to bring your pet to the grocery store? Movie theater? Shopping mall?

"It`s a gray area," said Attorney Steven Stambaugh.

Well, if your pet is a service or support animal, you can.

"You have unbridled rights if you`re a person with a disability that the service animal provides a task you cannot perform on your own because of your disability," said Stambaugh.

That is the law according to the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA.

The problem is, there is no definition beyond that.

According to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, it is not required for owners to carry licenses or certificates for their support animals.

Those are animals the owners claim offer emotional support in some capacity.

"We`re using animals in so many different ways in life now that the business owner, the property owner, needs to use their best judgement," said Stambaugh.

So how do business owners check if the animal you`re claiming is a service or support animal is legitimate?

The ADA says there are two questions to ask...

"Is this a service dog required for a disability. That`s one question. And then secondly, what specific task is the dog going to perform for you that you can`t on your own?" said Stambaugh.

Beyond those two questions, Stambaugh says it is illegal to ask for anything further.

Meaning, anyone can come up with any reason for needing a support animal, and the business owner is not allowed to question it.

"Nine times out of ten we kind of do let it happen. But we try to look out for the safety of the customers and maybe a service dog is on the deck," said Jason Naugle, manager of Champions Sports Bar and Grill.

Airlines, though, are a whole different ball game.

Since they are federally regulated, they are allowed to ask for documentation.

"I think for the best of everybody that is traveling on the aircraft, that any animal that is traveling is somewhat certified or documented by the process some of the airlines are requiring," said Shawn Gable, manager of marketing and digital media for Harrisburg International Airport.

Recently, Delta and United airlines tightened their guidelines, saying all passengers with service animals must present veterinary records and a note from a medical professional.

It is also worth noting since the ADA is a federal entity, they have the power to overrule any state laws.

Meaning, technically, the lenient laws we see in Pennsylvania are fair game anywhere.

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