It’s an emotional-support alpaca, so let us in

Author Patricia Marx decided to brazen her way through New York restaurants, museums, high-end fashion shops, and other institutions with five “un-cuddly, non-nurturing animals” such as a turtle, snake, and turkey, and some therapist paperwork that was easy enough to procure. [New Yorker] Aside from writing hilariously, she’s well informed about the Americans with Disabilities Act interplay:

Why didn’t anybody do the sensible thing, and tell me and my turtle to get lost? The Americans with Disabilities Act allows you to ask someone with a service animal only two questions: Is the animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the animal been trained to perform? Specific questions about a person’s disability are off limits, and, as I mentioned, people are baffled by the distinction between service animals and emotional-support animals.

Len Kain, the editor-in-chief of, a Web site that features pet-travel tips, said, “The law is fuzzy. If you ask one too many questions, you’re in legal trouble for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and could face fines of up to a hundred thousand dollars. But, if you ask one too few questions, you’re probably not in trouble, and at worst will be given a slap on the wrist.”

We’ve been tracking the issue of real and imagined service animals for a long time.

P.S. As I should have noted, changes in federal rules a few years back attempted to lay out a bright-line rule that animals other than individually trained dogs and some miniature horses do not enjoy service animal status under the ADA. Unless merchants have reason to fear separate liability under differing state or municipal versions of discrimination law, they should therefore be on firm ground in rejecting alpacas, reptiles, or turkeys — which of course assumes they are up on the status of the federal regs. More: Scott Greenfield.


  • Interesting article, but it really doesn’t answer any questions.

    As a pet owner, I’m a little sympathetic to “therapy” animals, within reason. But business owners should be shielded from lawsuits if they choose not to allow anything but a certified, trained dog for the blind or paraplegic into their establishment.

  • It’s a felony to ask a question? No slippery slope there, nosiree.

  • That’s a great thought Robert, but there is no certification recognized by the ADA.

  • Remember a few years ago when a guy got in trouble in NYC for having a tiger in his tank…er… apartment? He should have just claimed it was his therapy tiger.

    “That? Oh, that’s just my trained attack therapy lion. And don’t you dare ask any questions, hater.”

  • And there is, as always, the therapy hog:

  • Emotional support animals are not recognized under the ADA, ask away. Only animals covered by ADA are dogs and miniature horses. Confusing, uninformative article which isn’t typical for Mr. Olson. This woman and her alpaca/snake/whatever not covered under ADA and could have been asked to leave.

  • […] Olson at Overlawyered exposes the silly side of over-emotionalism in the embrace of comfort animals under the Americans […]