Accommodating Service Dogs

The challenge of balancing service dogs, fears, and allergies.
By JoAnna Lou, December 2014, Updated July 2016

Last week a California mall's Santa made the news when he refused to visit with an autistic girl because he was afraid of her Pit Bull service dog. It sounds like the situation was mishandled, since allegedly the Santa wouldn't meet with the girl even after her family offered to take the pup outside, but this situation also brings up a larger challenge.

In an ideal world we would be able to bring our well behaved pups anywhere we wanted--hotels, stores, and on airplanes. But there are two main limitations. The first is responsible pet ownership. Unfortunately it takes only one misbehaved dog to loose pet friendly rights for everyone. This is about teaching good manners in public (being quiet and under control) and about knowing a pup's limitations (for instance, if you know your dog doesn't like running kids, you should stay clear of parks or visit early in the morning when it's less crowded). Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

The second limitation is one that is related to the Santa case, and that's balancing pet friendliness with people that have an allergy or fear of dogs. This is a challenge with no easy solution. Of course with the mall situation, we're not just talking about being pet friendly, but about accommodating someone who needs their service dog. If the mall couldn't hire a Santa who isn't afraid of dogs (or allergic), they should develop a protocol for how to handle these cases, like having someone take the dog to a different area while the visit happens.

And this isn't just limited to Santa visits. All businesses should have a plan in place, not only for welcoming service dogs, but how to accommodate them if an employee or customer is afraid or allergic to animals. I hope that this case sparks other businesses to think about creating protocols in order to avoid turning someone away because of their service dog.

What are your ideas for balancing pet friendliness and accommodating service dogs with fears and allergies?


JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.