SEATTLE — A Seattle woman is sharing her story to help people understand how to appropriately interact with service animals and their owners after she and her service dog were recently confronted by staff at a restaurant.

Danielle and her service dog, Winnie, were trying to eat at a restaurant when she was confronted by staff, who asked her whether she had documentation for the dog and if she had a physical disability to warrant the animal. 

Service animals can be confused with emotional support animals, which are not granted the same privileges. 

Service animals are either dogs or miniature horses that are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks directly related to their owner’s disability,” according to Washington state law. 

Whereas, emotional support animals are “prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness.” 

Service animals receive special training to perform specific tasks for their owners and are permitted in public places.

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“I think before I had Winnie, I would rely more on friends for help, and I’d rely more on medication for help," said Danielle, "and now I don’t need it as much, even with her just learning two tasks so far.”

Typically, service animals can be distinguished by the vest they wear, but according to ADA regulation, there is not one vest that distinguishes a service animal. In fact, they don’t need to wear a vest at all.

"Even for people on the bus or pedestrians walking, if they're [the service animal] wearing a vest don't distract them," said Danielle. "It’s not just don’t pet them, it’s don’t talk to them, don’t make eye contact, which is something I didn’t know until I started training her.”

As far as business owners are concerned, service animals are permitted entry by law, but if the animal is being disruptive or threatening you can ask the owner to leave.  

Business owners can also ask if the service animal is a service animal required because of a disability, and what tasks the dog has been trained to perform. However, business owners and the general public should avoid asking the person about their disability.

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For more information on the distinction between service animals and emotional support animals, as well as the rights of their owners, visit the ADA’s website.