The city council in Hesperia, California approved a pair of rats as service animals on Tuesday, in spite of the federal government’s declaration that dogs are the only service animals and a protest by the local Tea Party.
On March 15, the federal government tightened its definition of what constitutes a service animal as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The new classification sanctions only dogs and in some cases, miniature horses.
The Act was signed into law in July 1990, but it never clearly defined which animals can be used as service animals. This led to all sorts of the animals being given the privilege over the past 21 years including: pigs, cats, monkeys, snakes, lizards and others.
The new regulation will have an impact on the entire country, except the small town of Hesperia where the city council voted 4-1 to allow any species of animal with a doctor’s note certifying their status – to be a service animal.
The issue began earlier this month when resident Danni Moore requested the city council pass an ordinance to allow two rats that sit on her shoulders to help control seizures become service animals.
The council approved the first step of the regulation on March 1 which would allow Ms. Moore to bring her rats into public buildings and businesses.
The council was scheduled to vote a second time on the issue on March 15.
Councilman Bill Holland, the former mayor and a planning commissioner opposed the measure. When it passed they enlisted the help of the local Tea Party to campaign against it.
The High Desert Tea Party took out an ad campaign and sent an e-mail to all of its members asking them to attend Tuesday’s meeting.
Those against the ordinance said it would put local businesses at risk of litigation and health hazards.
However, City Attorney Eric Dunn insisted the ordinance “won’t change at all the regulations that exist today” and shouldn’t expose any businesses to more litigation.
At the meeting on Tuesday, nearly two dozen Tea Party members and others who opposed the ordinance were on hand.
They expressed fear about making changes during the poor economy and worried about the effect animals in their place of business would have on customers. They asked the council to reconsider their vote.
On the other hand the Hesperia Star reported supporter Pat Kohut saying, “People who have service animals have them for a reason. They are imperative to their care.”
In the end the Hesperia City Council was not swayed by pressure from the federal government, the Tea Party or local business owners.
They approved Ms. Moore’s rats as official service animals with all of its privileges.
Dunn said Hesperia is the only municipality in California to pass such a measure.
Photo: Creative Commons - Jack Berry