Misdemeanor charge possible starting Sept. 1 for misrepresenting a pet as a service animal

As of Sept. 1,  there will be a criminal penalty for those in Alabama who misrepresent a pet as a service animal or an animal-in-training in public spaces or housing accommodations. Gov. Kay Ivey signed the law June 7,  aligning Alabama law with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Now under state and federal law, it is clear that the term service animal only applies to a dog or miniature horse that is individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability.

Under Act No. 2019-478, a person who knowingly and willingly misrepresents himself or herself as an owner or trainer of a service animal will be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor resulting in a $100 fine and 100 community service hours to be performed with an organization that serves individuals with a disability. The law removes the possibility of criminal charges being brought against businesses and their employees.

If it is not apparent what a service animal does, an establishment may ask only whether it is a service animal and what tasks it performs. In the event the service animal is still in training, the trainer can be asked for photo identification, what the animal is being trained to perform and for proof of experience if the trainer is not the individual with a disability.

Other provisions of the law include:

  • If a service animal is excluded or removed for being a direct threat to others, the public accommodation has to provide the individual with a disability the option of continuing access to the public accommodation without having the service animal on the premises.
  • If it is the regular policy and practice of a public accommodation to charge a person who is not disabled for damages caused by a pet, then an individual with a disability is liable for damage caused by a service animal.
  • Even if a place of public accommodation requires a deposit for pets, it may not impose a deposit or surcharge on a trainer or an individual with a disability as a precondition to permitting a service animal to accompany the individual with a disability.
  • Allergies and fear of animals are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to an individual with a service animal.

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, sponsored the legislation.

This article is part of the Alabama Retail Report, a communication for Alabama Retail Association members. Not a member? Join us!

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