PHOENIX - Forget ferrets. Cancel the cats. And don't even discuss the ducks.
On a voice vote, the state House agreed Monday to narrow the definition of what can be considered a "service animal" solely to dogs and miniature horses. Every other kind of creature, furry, feathered or otherwise now allowed under Arizona law would become off-limits. A final roll-call vote will send the measure to the Senate.
Roxane Nielsen, owner of Prescott Brewing Co., told lawmakers during an earlier hearing on HB 2401 the move is long overdue. "I can't say we've had lions and tigers and bears," she testified. "But we've had parrots and ferrets and squirrels."
The federal Americans With Disabilities Act requires places where the public can go to accommodate service animals.
Two years ago, the U.S. Justice Department revised its own rules to narrow the list of animals recognized to dogs and miniature horses. But the Arizona law has not kept pace, allowing the owner of any kind of animal to declare it a "service animal."
Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, told colleagues he's seen the same problem in his family-owned grocery store.
"It creates a public-health problem in our business," he said. And a single incident in which an animal contaminated food would put the store out of business, Shope said.
The changes in HB 2401 actually are much broader.
Beyond limiting what can be a service animal, the legislation spells out what kind of conditions allow someone to bring a dog or miniature horse with him, specifying that an animal required solely for "comfort" or emotional support does not qualify. So someone who says he or she needs the animal solely because it makes them calmer will have to leave it outside or at home.
Federal law does include calming an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack as a covered condition, so the Arizona statute would refine that to include helping people with psychiatric and neurological disorders "by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors."
That led Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, to question how a restaurant owner can determine if someone has a real disability - and does not simply have "a Paris Hilton need to carry your animal with you."
Sherry Gillespie, lobbyist for the Arizona Restaurant Association, said businesses need to tread carefully.
When a disability is not obvious, she said, federal law permits someone to ask only two questions: Is the animal required because of a disability, and what work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
But they cannot inquire about the person's disability or require medical documentation. They also cannot demand a special identification card or ask that the animal demonstrate the ability to perform the task.
Helping someone with certain psychological disorders is only one of the list of tasks that would be considered acceptable under the Arizona law. Others range from helping someone with vision problems to navigate, alerting those with hearing issues to the presence of people or sounds, pulling a wheelchair, assisting during a seizure, retrieving items like medicine or a telephone, and assisting with balance or stability.
That still leaves the question about miniature horses. "What can they do that dogs can't do?" asked Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley.
"They live longer than dogs," said Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, sponsor of the legislation, who said she rides and shows horses. "So when you establish this relationship with your service animal, if you're going to invest that kind of time and money into a relationship that you're 100 percent dependent on that animal, wouldn't it be great if you could have something that lives 20 to 30 years as opposed to eight, 11, 12 years?"
She also said they have greater peripheral vision, and are stronger than most dogs, so they can pull people in wheelchairs much more easily.
"And I'll just answer the question that everybody's asked me privately in hall, and I'm going to put it on the record: They are fully potty trained," Carter said.
"I can't say we've had lions and tigers and bears. But we've had parrots and ferrets and squirrels."
Prescott Brewing Co.