November 30, 2021

Legislature to consider new animal policy

People will be allowed to bring only service dogs, and in some instances miniature horses, into the County Office Building if Cortland County legislators approve a new animal policy at their Aug. 28 meeting.

”It’s in anticipation of the new entryway, so it outlines the county’s plan for screening and entry of animals into the building,” County Attorney Karen Howe said during a Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting Tuesday. “We already have a small policy in place at mental health because of support animals, but this will allow everyone to know what animals they can and cannot bring into the building.”

The county is creating a new entryway for visitors using the activity room to the north of the current entrance to better assist and screen people coming into the building.

It also comes as the county has faced problems over the years regarding people trying to bring animals into the building.

“When we have denied them, some people have left their dogs at the security desk — just like walked away and left them there,” she said. “Other people have tied them to the railings, which means they’re right at the doorway. It’s been an issue.”

Under the policy, which was approved, 6-0, only dogs and in some cases miniature horses that are specifically trained to help with a person’s disability will be allowed because they are considered service animals.

Committee Chairman Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) was absent from the meeting.

Because emotional support animals are not considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they would not be allowed, except for in the Mental Health clinic and Child Advocacy Center, according to the policy.

“The proposed policy is thorough and well informed by the American’s with Disabilities Act and NYS (New York State) regulations,” said Aaron Baier, the executive director for Access to Independence. “The policy helps to clarify the difference between ‘Service Animals’ and ‘Emotional Support Animals,’ which is a commonly misunderstood distinction. The policy will ensure equal access to people with disabilities who require the use of a service animal.”

He also said the fact that a policy for all county buildings is looking at being put in place now — 30 years after the act was passed — shows there is more to improve.

“Access To Independence stands firm on its vision to realize a community that is free from discrimination and physical barriers,” he said. “While we applaud this single step toward that vision, we hope that the hundreds of necessary next steps will not take another 30 years to accomplish.”

The policy also requires the animals to be harnessed, leased or tethered “unless the device interferes with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents such use of devices.”

Staff at the County Office Building, such as the officers at the entrance, will be allowed to ask only two questions if it is unclear what service the animal is providing:

n Is the service dog required because of a disability?

n What work task is the dog trained to perform?

People will not be required to answer and staff cannot ask what a person’s disability is, for medical documentation, for special documentation or certification for the dog or ask if the dog can demonstrate its service.

A person with a service dog won’t be denied access to the building, nor will the dog be denied access or removed from the property unless the dog is out of control or the dog is not housebroken, according to the policy.

“Now do we have any liability if my dog bites you?” asked Legislator George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer).

“The policy is to help cut that down,” Howe said.

“But we’d be on the hook anyway?” Wagner asked.

“Pretty much, yes,” said County Administrator Rob Corpora.

Chuck Miller, who is both the maintenance supervisor and safety officer, said he and his secretary track any incidents that happen by name and date.

“So if we start to see a repeat we can keep track of it,” he said.