DEAR JOAN: We were having dinner at the Red Lobster in Fremont when a couple came in with a puppy on a leash. The puppy promptly dumped a load on the carpet. The server helped clean it up and moved them to another booth.

The couple claimed that the puppy was a service dog, however when asked as to why the dog did not have a vest on they said that it was not required by law. They then were asked if they had the paperwork that documented the dog's status and again they said that they did not have to carry or show any paperwork by law.

Was the couple correct? And if not, what is wrong with a restaurant that they do not demand the dog be taken out even after a complaint was made to the server?

Two puppies take a break from guide dog training.
Two puppies take a break from guide dog training. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/Orlando Sentinel)

Barbara Gross

Livermore

DEAR BARBARA: The couple was correct. Service dogs are not required to wear identifying vests or tags, and their owners are not required to carry paperwork with them proving the dog is a service dog.

However, the question here is whether the dog really was a service dog. A couple of things point to the answer no. If the dog was indeed a puppy, it was more likely still in training, and if so, California law requires the use of vests and a collar tag. Failure to do so leaves the owner/trainer liable for a $1,000 fine.

Service dogs are kept on very strict diets and they are trained never to use the bathroom indoors, although I suppose if the dog was ill there could be mishaps.

As to why the restaurant staff didn't evict the couple and the dog after complaints were made, it's very simple. To do so is against the law.

Federal laws protect people with disabilities who use service dogs from discrimination. Businesses cannot ban the dogs from the premises and demand they leave unless the dog is acting in an aggressive or disruptive way. Other than the poo accident, it seems the dog was otherwise well-behaved.

Service dogs are not pets. They are as essential to their owners as a cane or wheelchair would be. The people bring their dogs with them because they need them, and to deny them the use of the animals would be cruel.

People use service dogs for a variety of reasons. Seeing-eye dogs are but one type. Other dogs are used by those with hearing impairments and physical limitations. Service dogs also are useful for detecting low blood sugars or oncoming seizures for those with diabetes and epilepsy.

The law allows business owners to ask if the dog is a service dog, but for the privacy of the person, they cannot ask what the disability is.

I think the Red Lobster staff did a commendable job given the restrictions they must work under.

Finding love

Looking for unconditional love and affection? Put down the chocolates and roses and get yourself to a PetSmart this weekend, starting today, and see what a furry little friend can offer.

PetSmart Charities is hosting a National Adoption Weekend to benefit pets and the people who work to find homes for them. Participating groups that bring their animals to the event will earn $35 in grant money from PetSmart for every animal adopted. It's a win-win-win situation.

So check with the store near you to see what groups will be there and consider finding a new companion.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read the Animal Life blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/pets.