We all love our pets.
Why, the princess of my home is Hedy, a three-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever. She’s at my feet when I’m working at my laptop, and on my lap when I’m watching the boob tube at the end of a long day.
And I tend to take her with me when I hit the road.
Yep, if you catch me running errands you’ll invariably see Hedy, with her head stuck out the rear window of my car, ears flapping in the wind, and that dopey ain’t-life-a-wonderment grin.
One year, my son and I even tried to have Hedy’s picture taken with Santa.
That didn’t go over too well with Hedy. I won’t go into the details but, hey kids, let’s just say that Santa was healed up in plenty of time to make his Christmas rounds.
The point I’m leading to is that I can understand why someone like Debby Rose enjoys having Richard, her pet Bonnet Macaque monkey, accompanying her wherever she goes.
That being said, I can also understand why stores, restaurants and hospitals in Springfield, Missouri, were getting fed up with Richard showing up in their cafeterias.
You see, Richard just wasn’t riding around town with Debby. The mother of six claimed that Richard was her service animal, helping her cope with agoraphobia and anxiety disorder.
So Richard accompanied her when she went to Wal-Mart, attended classes at Cox College, and visited South Cox Hospital.
That was until the Springfield-Greene County Health Department started receiving complaints about Richard being present in the food service cafeterias operated at those places.
After an investigation, the health department determined that Richard was just Debby’s pet, not a trained service animal.
Accordingly, the department issued a bulletin to food service establishments throughout Springfield instructing them that allowing Debby to enter their establishments with Richard would constitute a violation of Missouri health codes.
With Richard banned, Debby sued the department, Wal-Mart and the Cox Health Systems for violating her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Now, even though Richard hasn’t been specifically trained as a service animal, Debby claims that her furry friend serves a variety of functions that help her cope with her medically diagnosed conditions.
According to Debby, her agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder substantially limit her ability to function normally in public. She says that, without Richard, her “condition worsens and [she] can barely function at all, [she] will not leave [her] home, and sometimes will not get out of bed.”
For instance, she says that Richard’s hugs help to reduce her anxiety in public places.
Okay, I can see that. Everybody likes a hug.
Debby also says that, when she’s not functioning well, Richard can help her with minor tasks at home, like getting her the remote.
Now there’s a monkey I could use. But not if it’s one of those pooh-throwing monkeys. At home, I draw the line when it comes to pooh throwing.
Debby also says that Richard helps her with her driving, activating her turn signal to alert her when to turn into her street or driveway.
Okay, let’s stop right there.
I’m not sure I feel all that comfortable with the thought of someone driving around with a monkey copilot. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you’re taking directions from a monkey it’s time to surrender the old driver’s license.
The problem for Debby in her ADA lawsuit was that, while Richard might be a great pal, he doesn’t qualify as a service animal under the Act.
That’s the conclusion reached last month by U.S. District Judge Richard Dorr when he granted summary judgment for the health district, Wal-Mart and Cox Health Systems.
“On the whole, there is insufficient evidence indicating the monkey was specifically trained to perform any ‘tasks’ related to Plaintiff’s disorders. There is also no specific evidence indicating Plaintiff’s disability requires the use of a monkey to perform day-to-day activities,” Dorr wrote. “While the Court does not doubt that the monkey provides Plaintiff with a sense of comfort and helps her cope with any anxiety she may have, the ADA requires more for an animal to qualify as a service animal.”
Moreover, the judge found that Debby wasn’t a person with a disability entitled to the ADA’s protections.
“Though Plaintiff claims to suffer panic attacks on occasion that limit her ability to go out in public, she offers no specific instances where her impairments impeded her ability to perform any major life activities,” the judge explained, “At most it appears Plaintiff’s impairments offer no more than mild limitations compared to the general population, and the Eighth Circuit has repeatedly found individuals with similar limitations do not qualify as disabled under the ADA.” (Rose v. Springfield-Greene County Health Department)
— Pat Murphy
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