There's some horsing around going on in Washington. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) wants to ban miniature horses from joining diners in restaurants, despite a recent ruling that the animals can be used as service animals for the disabled.
The Americans with Disabilities Act forbids restaurants and other establishments from turning away customers who use dogs as service animals. The Department of Justice published new rules on March 15, 2011, that allow trained miniature horses as alternatives to dogs, "subject to certain limitations," which say that horses must be housebroken and under the owner's control. The rules stop short of defining miniature horses as service animals "to allow flexibility in situations where using a horse would not be appropriate." This means the horses can only be used in facilities that can accommodate an animal of that size and when the animals' presence does not affect "legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility." The new rules went into effect on March 15 of this year.
Chaffetz thinks this is too much to ask. In a May 17 editorial for the Daily Herald, he called the Justice Department rules on miniature horses a "ridiculous mandate." He also called the lawsuits created by failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other regulations "a massive drag on the U.S. economy." Chaffetz recently submitted an amendment to the Commerce, Science, and Justice appropriations bill to repeal the mandate. The bill has passed in the House and has moved on to the Senate.
Fox News reported in March that the first lawsuits over service horses were filed earlier this year. Jose Estrada is suing two California retail stores for not allowing him and his miniature horse to enter. Estrada, who uses a horse because a dog is not strong enough to pull his wheelchair, is suing the establishments for "no less than" $4,000 in damages.
While many experts say miniature horses can be excellent service animals due to their strength, stamina, memory, and concern for safety, others argue that they cannot be housebroken. Harry Elder, president of the American Miniature Horse Association, told Fox News that a miniature horse "can be readily trained to be lead or driven but, in most cases, it would not make a suitable replacement for an animal such as a guide dog."
Not all lawmakers feel the same way as Chaffetz. On May 31, the Illinois legislature passed a bill — almost unanimously — to allow miniature horses as service animals in any public place, including restaurants and schools. The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria), said the bill puts Illinois in compliance with federal law. The bill awaits the signature of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.
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