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State Law on Service Animals is Toothless Waste of Time And Money

Rules are written in a way that makes enforcement impossible.


We are a nation of laws. Without rules, our society, culture and institutions would not exist. 

Where we run into problems is when laws are written unclearly or with no clear system in which to enforce that law. 

If a officer, when making a traffic stop, were not allowed by law to ask for proof of your right to drive or identity, he would be unable to cite you for whatever infraction you may have commited. As a result, the traffic laws would be ineffective and unenforceable.

Massachusetts General Law Chapter 272, Section 98A is as good an example of a toothless law as I have ever seen. The decision by City of Salem Health Agent Larry Ramdin to suddenly enforce this law in regard to outdoor patios in Salem restaurants, while well intentioned, seems to be a waste of time and resources.

For the last 15 years, more than a few Salem restaurants have become known for their hospitality to local dog owners and their pets. Outdoor patios offer water, biscuits and, in one case, even a small doggy menu. Sunny weekend days bring these folks and their animals out in great numbers.

If you were to walk around the South End in Boston, you would see the same sights that are seen here in Salem — dogs and their human companions relaxing around a table on a patio for some cool refreshments and a little socializing.

Larry Ramdin, whose job it is to enforce health laws, told me "there have been complaints," regarding this issue, including some from business owners. He also stated that "there is a regulatory system in place for enforcement of any part of the food code." That system would inculde punitive fines.

The fascinating part is, while restaurant staff are allowed to ask if an animal is a service animal and also to ask which disability the animal is trained for, they cannot under any circumstances ask for documentation of that training. The Health Agent, or any other municipal or state enforcement agent, is also limited to those two questions.

If you cannot verify the animal's legal status, how can you enforce the law?

Another interesting aspect here is that there are over 15 separate agencies that will certify your animal as a service animal without any training, certification or identification required. All they ask for is a small fee. That fee can range from $35 up to $200.

So, what we have is an unenforceable law that allows groups of charlatans to make a living by issuing phony certifications. The fitness industry is overrun by these types, and now it would seem that they have found another scam to run on the general public. 

I am not a dog person. I never have been. I tolerate them, and have even learned to like a few despite the many clueless owners who confuse their dogs with humans. In this case, however, I must side with these beasts of leisure.

A way should be found to create an exemption for restaurants that choose to be dog-friendly within the confines of their outdoor spaces. We did, after all, create an exemption for social clubs in Salem to continue to allow smoking after the smoking ban was implemented in 2001.

Which is more harmful to general health — clouds of toxic fumes or a few dogs lying around on a patio?

Larry Ramdin has expressed an interest in working to find a way to create that exemption.

If a responsible dog owner can control his animal, and the business ensures that the space used is thoroughly cleaned afterwards, who is really being hurt?

After all, if I decide to acquire a miniature horse to help me carry around my stuff (I am getting older and more frail), which is allowed by ADA regulations, it would be nice if my own beast of burden were allowed a little canine company.

Sometimes a law is just a law, but other times, it just a waste of everyone's time.

Nancy Gilberg July 09, 2012 at 09:37 PM
I thought the whole reason for outdoor seating was so you could bring your dog. Sadly, Salem's charm factor will drop a couple of notches if this is truly enforced. Shall we all meet at Capri Seaside Italian Grille in Salisbury, MA? Still dog-friendly.
Stan Sokol July 09, 2012 at 10:53 PM
What this country needs most is a 21st Century Johnny Appleseed/Batman who travels from town to town on foot shutting down dog-friendly outdoor cafes and keeping the populace safe from the scourge of dogs. I know the besieged citizens of Des Moines Iowa need this help. Hopefully, Larry Ramdin will step up to the plate and become that person. Let's start a fund to buy him several pair of comfortable walking shoes.
Joseph Kaye July 09, 2012 at 11:51 PM
If this is a health issue, it doesn't make any difference whether the dog is a service animal or not. All dogs have the same dander, germs, saliva, bark. So let them all sit at the tables. They add charm and make our town more civilized. Ever been to Europe?
laura potter July 10, 2012 at 02:56 AM
Restaurateurs cannot ask for documentation proving an animal is a service animal. As a result, save your money, Mike, we can't effectively enforce this law anyway -- we just have to take the person's word for it.
laura potter July 10, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Great article, Bill. Just one piece to clarify -- I don't want any restaurants getting in trouble. In your article you say the restaurant can ask " if an animal is a service animal and also to ask which disability the animal is trained for." This isn't exactly the case. We CANNOT ask what disability the animal is trained for. According to officials, that violates the individual's privacy. We CAN ask what service the animal is trained to perform. It's a subtle difference, but it's important. The way the question is worded puts the emphasis on what the animal can do, not what the disabled person cannot do. I hope this helps, and I hope we can find a way to create an exemption to this law.
Stan Sokol July 10, 2012 at 11:38 AM
The Massachusetts State Sanitary Code Chapter 10 (Minimum Sanitation Standards for Food Establishments) incorporates Chapter 6 of the 1999 Federal Food Code for the regulation of physical facilities of restaurants. (105 CMR 590.007) Section 6-501.115 of the Federal Food Code appears to prohibit live animals from the premises of restaurants: “(A) Except as specified in ¶¶ (B) and (C) of this section, live animals may not be allowed on the premises of a food establishment.” However, Section 8-103.10 of the 1999 Federal Food Code states in pertinent part: “The regulatory authority (Salem Board of Health) may grant a variance by modifying or waiving the requirements of this Code if in the opinion of the regulatory authority a health hazard or nuisance will not result from the variance.” In addition, Chapter 10 of the Massachusetts State Sanitary (Minimum Sanitation Standards for Food Establishments) defines “risk factors” as follows (105 CMR 590.002) Risk Factors (1) Risk Factors mean improper practices or procedures, which have been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), through epidemiological data as the MOST PREVALENT CONTRIBUTING FACTORS of foodborne illness or injury. (2) Risk Factors include: (a) Poor personal hygiene; (b) Food from unsafe source; (c) Inadequate Cooking; (d) Improper holding temperatures; and (e) Contaminated equipment. Larry, Do you see dogs on this list?
LadySelene July 10, 2012 at 12:01 PM
When you go to Florida, dogs are treated with respect, they are allowed everywhere. The restaurant owners there must know how to make your restaurant Pet Friendly! I put my dog in a stroller when I bring him in a mall or where there will be many people. This way, no one can complain he gets fur anywhere. :)
Mack Donald July 10, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Me, my wife and our dogs have been Shanty customers for 7 years. In the summer we would all go out, enjoy the food, beer and music, with one of our dogs, and have a great night out. There would usually be more people with dogs that would come and go during the evening. I never once seen any bad behavior by any dogs. They are happy to be out with their people, they enjoy the attention they get from all the strangers, they enjoy the food, and everyone relaxes and has a good time out, without having to worry about getting home soon to take care of the dogs etc. The folks at the Shanty has been great to all dog owners.
Laura Schneider July 10, 2012 at 01:24 PM
I agree 100%. If I could agree more than 100% I would :-). This is not a state law issue at all, but an ammendment to the US constitution--the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). People who have a disability, even an invisible disability, that can be helped by a service dog are allowed to have one and to bring it virtually anywhere (sterile hospital surgical rooms and industrial clean rooms being two examples of these rare exceptions). So, I guess, for completely different reasons I agree with Mr. Legault, also, that the state law is "toothless" and a waste of time since it is overridden by the federal Constitutional ammendment. No mention was made in the article, however, of forbidding the use of service dogs on outdoor restaurant patios. Also, it did not mention what happens when there are loud, noisy, fighting dogs on the same restaurant patio. If a dog, even a service dog, is disrupting the normal enjoyment of a business, the owner has the right to kick them out on that occasion. One simple solution for folks who don't like dogs: have a "dogs" and "no dogs" designated seating area outside. The hostess is the only one who needs to know that this even exists, unless it is a seat-yourself place, in which case small signs on the tables can quickly create a pleasant dining experience for all.
Laura Schneider July 10, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Excellent reply, because (taking service dogs out of the equation) if there is no law preventing dogs from being outside with their owners while eating and/or drinking, then they can't be banned unless they present a nuisance, right?
Laura Schneider July 10, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Diane, my heart goes out to you and your restaurant and staff. I think the whole thing is ridiculous and hurtful to businesses like yours. I just hope someone with common sense gets involved. I mean, dogs are on the ground or in their owner's lap; I doubt there's a policy preventing ants and flying insects from dining with the humans outdoors. (And the bugs really DO carry the germs; there are very few germs from a dog that humans can get sick on.) I used to be severely allergic to dogs (and everything else), but would just request a table away from dogs in those situations. Best of luck Diane and all of the other business owners who are losing patrons due to this foolishness.
Michele Enenstein July 10, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Thanks for letting Salem know that you are a complete fake with no morals. Is having lunch with your dog in a restaurant worth jail time, large fine, and possible loss of your Social Security? Are you really that senseless?
Michele Enenstein July 10, 2012 at 02:23 PM
You can indeed ask what the dog is trained to do. A piece of paper from a scam website does not magically transform your pet into a service dog. By buying one of those fake certificates for your dog, you can committing federal fraud. I guess you prefer jail food over the food from one of Salem's fine restaurants.
Marijane Gray July 10, 2012 at 03:31 PM
There are in fact ways for businesses to determine if a dog is a legitimate service dog or not. And when they determine that your ill-behaved pet has a vest slapped on it from a scam certifier, have fun with the fines, jail time, federal fraud charges and permanent loss of social security benefits. Faking a service dog is a crime.
laura potter July 10, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Michele, indeed we can ask what the dog is trained to do, but we cannot ask anything about the individual's disability. I do not advocate buying a fake certificate for your dog.
Marijane Gray July 10, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Justin, you ''registering'' your dog does NOT allow her everywhere. In fact, if you are not legally disabled and your dog is not trained to mitigate that disability, you have committed federal fraud and are subject to fines, jail time, and permanent loss of social security benefits. Also, flashing that fake ID badge does great harm to legitimately disabled people and their real service dogs. What an utterly unethical person you are to take advantage and scam laws meant to protect the disabled and I hope you get caught. Have fun with the $15,000 federal fraud charge.
Marijane Gray July 10, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Yes, the law is under the Health Code that non-service animals are not permitted where food is served.
KlassySalem July 10, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Michele, what federal statute is violated?
William Legault July 10, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Laura is correct in her clarification on the two questions. I do not suggest that buying a phony certification is the right thing to do. I feel it is not. Announcing in a public on line forum that you have indeed done this seems to me to be a bad decision.
Laura Schneider July 10, 2012 at 05:38 PM
To the person who is anonymously and with no way to identify or reply to the sender of personal attacks/challenges to my direct email address (and probably to many others on this list who have commented), shame on you! You should know better ways of communicating than hurling insults at someone's back, and you should know that differing opinions are really no big deal. You're welcome to try to send me more, but I'll not read or respond publicly to them so in either case your fun is over. Hopefully the moderators of this forum can stop the flaming and boot you out of the system, also.
Aubry Bracco (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Hi Laura, other readers can't directly email other users on the thread. What is probably happening is that you didn't uncheck the "send me email updates for this article." Unless you deactivate that, you will receive updates on the article that you commented on. All the updates come in as "noreply." Go to one of the emails and on the bottom it should give you an option to stop receiving updates if that is what you wish to do. I hope that helps. Thank you.
Deb July 11, 2012 at 11:55 PM
I had a hunch that this was not run by the "higher powers". Thanks for confirming it. I've emailed, and hope that the higher powers see the folly in this move. I'm also disappointed that a "public servant" has so dis'd not only the public, but solid business owners in this burg. Besides which - the least he could have done is run this by his superiors, and/or the city attorney. I'm (at the moment) keeping faith that cooler heads will prevail. Fingers crossed.
Letty C July 18, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I apologize if I have missed this info on the posts, but could someone please post contact info re challenging this ordinance? Is there a way that Salem (and others who oppose the enforcement of dogs--service or otherwise--not being allowed at outdoor seating) can call a meeting and be heard??? I've a feeling if this is challenged we know who will win!!!
Stan Sokol July 18, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Larry Ramdin is on vacation this week probably checking out the public health job prospects in North Korea and Iran. He'll be a lot more comfortable working in either place than he apparently is in Salem, where people (including business owners who responsibly cater to owners of well-trained dogs) aren't nearly as stupid as he thinks. Unfortunantley, the Salem Board of Health doesn't have a public meeting scheduled until the 2nd week of September. Still, anyone can phone members of the Board of Health at their homes to tell the members what you think. Dinner time is best. Of course, don't hold your breath waiting for your calls to be returned. The BOH must know what a mistake it was to hire Ramdin, who has a problem understanding how the legal system works in Massachusetts, but they're way too arrogant to admit it. Lastly, there is a very simple solution. The City Attorney has known it for two weeks. It's called a "waiver" and it's clearly stated in the Regulations for restaurant physical facilities. It's often a lot easier to pretend you can't solve a problem than to actually do something PRODUCTIVE about it. Sadly, that's what's going on here with the BOH and the City Attorney. That Board and the City Solicitor don't have to run for election, so they're thumbing their noses at you.
William Legault July 26, 2012 at 09:06 PM
The law is poorly written and fails to identify specifically which organizations offer legitimate service animal certifications. Those that take advantage of this by by buying sham certifications should rightfully be ashamed of themselves.
Justin Mattera July 26, 2012 at 09:24 PM
This is humorous to me. A law was written (poorly I agree), now people are getting mad that it is being followed, not taken advantage of, but FOLLOWED. If you don't like the law, run for political office and change it. It's that simple. My dog meets all the qualifications for a service/therapy dog, therefore she is.
john July 26, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Ramdin-like all other department heads in Salem-does what Driscoll tells him to do. You don't need a brain you need an ear !!
john July 26, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Just curious what your disability is?
charles malia July 31, 2012 at 02:02 PM
hey stan, never mind some who are hanging out , but some that work in the food establishments also, remember when our health laws mandated waitress hair nets, etc.
Stan Sokol July 31, 2012 at 04:33 PM
If you get sick from a foodborne illness after eating at an outdoor (or even an indoor) restaurant, it's not EVER because a well-behaved dog was on the pavement under its owners table. There's no (meaning not one) peer-reviewed study ever published suggesting dogs pose a health hazard to restaurant patrons. You have a right to hate dogs, but you don't have a right to make up facts to support that hatred. If you honestly are worried about foodborne illness, keep an eye on your server's hands, walk into the kitchen and see if the prep tables and cooking equipment looks clean and check the temperatures in the refrigerators and freezers. By the way, did anyone else notice that at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, Mitt Romney was the flag bearer for the Cayman Islands?


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