What Is a Service Dog? A Court Case in Wisconsin Will Test the Issue
Stephen Bottila claims his German shepherd mix dog is a service animal and that Madison, Wisconsin police unlawfully ejected him from a restaurant and a city park with his dog in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Bottila contends the dog has the ability to alert him to oncoming epileptic seizures.
But a former Madison police officer testified in a deposition that the dog lacked a harness or any other item identifying it as a service dog at the time of the incident at the park. In the lawsuit, the City of Madison denies that the dog is, in fact, a service dog and challenges whether Bottila has a legitimate need to be accompanied by the dog.
Legal Definition of a Service Animal
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division:
The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.
It is not required that service animals wear special harnesses or collars, and proof of a person’s medical condition or the dog’s certification as a service dog may not be demanded as a condition of allowing the dog to accompany the person.
Bottila’s Civil Rights Lawsuit may Test the Definition of Service Dog
Bottila’s civil rights lawsuit is scheduled to begin Monday in federal district court, and a pending motion by the city asks the judge to exclude the dog from the courtroom. The city argues that its presence in court would suggest to the jury that the judge believes the dog is a service animal.
The City argues that whether the dog is a bona fide service animal “or merely a pet” is a disputed fact in the case.
Since the incidents that gave rise to the lawsuit, Bottila was subdued with pepper spray and a Taser after he refused to leave a restaurant where the manager sought to eject him because of the dog. Madison Police Captain Victor Wahl maintains the officers acted appropriately because Bottila had finished eating and had no more business in the restaurant and he resisted officers’ attempts to remove him.
Update: The Dog will be Permitted in Court
From the Wisconsin State Journal:
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb said she will allow Stephen Bottila to bring Justice, a German shepherd mix Bottila says is a seizure-alert dog, into the courtroom during the trial that begins Monday.