New York City is certainly no stranger to man’s best friend. From hosting the annual Westminster Dog Show to having its own dog museum, you can be sure to see a furry friend on every corner. However, all canines are not treated the same under NYC law, especially when it comes to animals who provide services to their owners.
While New York’s Civil Rights Law requires public facilities (including restaurants and other food establishments) to allow guide dogs, service dogs and hearing dogs, emotional support animals — therapist-approved animals that assist owners with mental or emotional disabilities or conditions — are not included in the legislation. And that can create serious problems for people who depend on their animals to help them navigate life in the city.
“Personally, I know that my anxiety is often worse in public spaces,” said Faith Marnecheck, 20, a student at New York University and owner of an emotional support Rottweiler mix named Roxie. “By not allowing my emotional support animal (ESA) in public, I do not have the comfort and anxiety-reducing effects my dog provides for me.” The de facto ban on ESA’s can make people who need them more likely to not leave their house, or to be more symptomatic in public, Marnecheck added.
Store Owners DecideAlthough these animals can provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to their owners, they are not trained to perform specific tasks and are therefore not protected as service animals, according to the NYC Human Rights Law. That leaves it up to the owners of public accommodations to allow or ban ESAs from their establishments.
Marnecheck said she has been refused service at Shake Shack and Starbucks with Roxie in tow, making it increasingly difficult to find a cheap meal on a college budget with her four-legged friend.
“It’s very easy to receive a letter from a health professional for a therapy dog — I have written many,” said Sean Grover, a clinical social worker based in the East Village. “Therapy dogs have been very successful in alleviating the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Caring for an animal can also bring comfort and meaning into one’s life.”
While ESAs are allowed in no-pets housing under the federal Fair Housing Act, and are also allowed to fly in airplane cabins, owners of emotional support animals still do not have guaranteed access to public spaces such as restaurants, hotels and retail stores. Although recent legislation has been increasingly restrictive on the rights of service animals, some ESA owners, including Marnecheck, hope to see more inclusive laws in the near future.
“I really hope that laws change to recognize the importance of having ESAs in all spaces,” said Marnecheck. “I would be so happy if the laws changed because I feel so much better when I have my dog with me, and I hope that I will soon have the same rights as people who need service dogs. I think that progress is being made, but I do not think these laws will change soon.”