"So when I'm hiring people they know right up front that there are going to be dogs here and there's a potential they could be here everyday, all day," she said. "So if there are fears or allergies, we need to address those right upfront."
Most insurance companies will cover dogs in the workplace, both from a business owner's commercial insurance and a pet owner's homeowner's insurance, according to Doug Allen, president of Turner Barker Insurance in Portland. "There's nothing in the contract language that would preclude coverage," he said, adding that that goes for office environments, as well as retail or hospitality businesses.
However, he suggests a "prudent" business owner should make sure their insurance can cover any liability associated with dogs in the office. Some underwriters exclude certain breeds of dogs from a policy that are perceived to be aggressive, such as pit bulls or Rottweilers, Allen said.
"If you have knowledge that this dog could be a problem and you still allow them, then that increases the liability to your company," he said.
Matthew Tarasevich, an attorney at Bernstein Shur in Portland, puts it bluntly for business owners. "Let's face it," he said. "At the end of the day, if you let a dog in the workplace and it bites someone, they're going to come after you."
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Maine Human Rights Act require businesses to allow equal access to customers with disabilities who require service animals.
Both the ADA and the HRA define a "service animal" as a dog, while the ADA also has a provision for miniature horses. "Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition," according to the Maine HRA.
If a customer claims a dog is a service animal, the business owner has few options. A business owner may ask if the dog is a service animal required because of a disability and what work or task the dog has been trained to perform, but that's it, according to Kristin Aiello, a managing attorney at the Maine Disability Rights Center. Business owners may not ask what the disability is or require any sort of documentation certifying that the dog has been trained as a service animal, Aiello said.
The experience of accommodating customers with service animals can at times be frustrating, though, according to Connie Boivin, owner of the Charles Inn in Bangor. Since purchasing the inn 12 years ago, Boivin has seen an increase in the number of guests bringing in dogs and claiming they are service animals. She had two such guests this week.
Boivin runs a pet-friendly inn, reserving a few rooms on the first floor for guests with pets. There's even a pug that belongs to the inn's bartender and often greets guests.
But dealing with guests who have service animals still presented her with a dilemma this week.
Neither of the guests had disabilities that were apparent to her. One brought the service animal up to the room, then went out for the rest of the day, leaving the dog in the room. That made Boivin question whether it was a service dog, but she knew she couldn't do anything about it.
Her dilemma is that she has designated rooms for pets, so that when someone allergic to dogs requests a pet-free room, she has plenty she can offer without worry. But Boivin isn't allowed to restrict guests with service animals to certain rooms. Now she's worried that when a guest who's allergic asks for a room and a guarantee that a dog has never been there, she can't offer her assurances without spending money to do a deep cleaning. Since the ADA doesn't allow innkeepers to tack on a cleaning fee for service dogs, the money would come out of her pocket.
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