Irving Farm Incident Yields Understanding of Service Animals Law

This article was originally published in The Millerton News, a New York State newspaper, in February 2015.

Republished with permission, copyright The Lakeville Journal Company, LLC, 2015.

Maddie Brudos, a student at Mount Holyoke College, was accompanied by her labradoodle service dog, Summer, during a stop at Irving Farm on Sunday, Feb.1, while visiting with local friend and classmate June-Elisabeth Conti.

Brudos and Conti were also joined by Conti’s mother, Maplebrook School science teacher Wendy Conti.

According to Wendy Conti, a barista approached the customers inquiring if the dog was accompanying someone blind and, when informed that Summer wasn’t, told the group that the dog would not be able to stay due to code.

That code, Chapter 1 of the New York State Sanitary Code, Sub part 14-1, Food Service Establishments, was provided to the restaurant by the Dutchess County Department of Health after the subject was raised in a prior incident in June 2013, according to Irving Farm Store Manager Kathy Shapiro.

The code reads, under 14-1.183 Animals, “Live animals, including birds and turtles, are to be excluded from food service operations…. Patrol dogs accompanying security police officers or guide dogs accompanying blind persons are permitted in the dining area.”

Wendy Conti cited the American Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations on service animals, federal law in effect since 2011, maintaining that it superseded the state code.

According to the ADA regulations, “A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability” and “title III entities [public accommodations and commercial facilities] must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.”

A resolution was not reached that afternoon; Brudos brought Summer outside and Conti wrote her county legislators.

Later, Conti was called by a county department of health official who she alleges gave her the same argument.

“I got a call back from the department of health, they said, ‘Our laws overrank anything else,’ they said, ‘This is what the state says — we follow the state regs,’” Conti said in an interview with The Millerton News. “I told them no, they’re wrong.”

Conti said she was transferred to an official at the state level who she alleges also asserted state code took precedence.

After her own investigation, Shapiro came to the same conclusion regarding the ADA rules. Shapiro and Conti discussed the incident and came to a peaceful understanding, both said.

June-Elisabeth Conti thanked Irving Farm on its Facebook page for “remedying the situation,” in a post dated Feb. 6.

According to Dutchess County Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Sabrina Marzouka, the ADA regulations do supersede the state and county code.

Marzouka said it was her understanding that Irving Farm requested a copy of the state sanitary code, which the county enforces along with its own text.

“In this particular case, we are talking about the state sanitary code,” she said. “The state sanitary code language is unfortunately very restrictive, it specified police patrol and guide dogs for the blind.

“Our position, since the ADA changed … our interpretation is very clear: all service animals are allowed in the dining area of food service establishments,” Marzouka added. “Even though the state sanitary code specifically identified police patrol and guide dogs.”

Marzouka said that department staff is aware of the ADA rule and that when there’s confusion, the department clarifies it.

“Now what we are doing, we are in the process of sending communication to our restaurant owners,” the department official said. “We are going to be specifically clarifying service dogs in food service restaurants.”

Marzouka explained that dogs attending to “all different disabilities” are considered service animals, and that under the ADA rules protecting disabled persons’ rights, restaurant workers are only allowed to ask patrons with dogs two questions: “Is this a service dog?” and “What is it trained to do?”

“Being what it is, I think [the incident at Irving Farm] is an opportunity to remind all restaurant owners that, by the way, this is the ADA rule,” she said. “Service dogs are allowed where the public is allowed.”

The assistant commissioner said when the state code was written (the section’s cover page reads “effective Jan. 8, 1997”), service dogs were not defined as they are now.

“Things have changed, service dogs are utilized more,” she said. “The state code doesn’t reflect that, that ADA rule supersedes that. We need to make sure restaurants understand that … so they can respond to the needs of their clients.”

Marzouka said updating state regulations is a long process.

“In the meantime, the individual with the disability is protected, that’s what’s important,” she said.

Maddie Brudos and her service dog, Summer

Maddie Brudos and her service dog, Summer


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