Who Let the Dogs Out?
On April 17th, 2012 - Elizabeth Sensabaugh with the Blacksburg Library in beautiful western Virginia near the Appalachian Trial system asked Publib:
We have a library facility that is positioned near a popular walking trail. This means that folks want to stop in at the library and leave their dogs leashed outside (to a bench, bike rack, building column) while they check out materials. Recently, we’ve had some concerning situations with unfriendly dogs (potential bite situation) or, at the very least, the dogs have been barking constantly while their owners were inside for long periods of time.
I’m curious to learn if any of you have experienced anything like this with your libraries? Do you have a policy or Code of Conduct that addresses this?
Our policies involve patrons not bringing their dogs inside the library, but don’t necessarily deter them from bringing their dogs on library property/grounds and leaving them unattended. Usually this is a safety concern o an issue of disruption or obstructing walkways/sitting areas, etc. Thanks in advance for any opinions or information about your experiences!
And, the Publib chorus responds:
We have a city ordinance that only service dogs are allowed in public buildings (including the library) and the owner must produce documentation when asked if there is any question about whether or not it’s a service dog.
If dogs and their owners are a problem or may become a problem check your city’s ordinances about dogs and public buildings. You may be able to post a sign saying “Only service dogs allowed. City Ord. ###” ~ Cindy Rosser – Waco McLennan County Library – Waco, TX
Can you set up a dog parking area like the ones they have in Denmark?
- Or this one, in Colorado:
~ Betsy Vera – Gail Borden Public Library
We’re in a similar situation and our solution was to post a sign outside the front entrance that says “No unattended dogs”. When someone does leave their dog, we call animal control. (Their office is right next door so they usually respond quickly.) We’ve done that for a few years now and the problem has dramatically decreased. We took a hard nose approach after a young boy was bit by a dog tied to the bike rack. ~ Carrie Valdes- Grand County Public Library – Moab, UT
Perhaps I should look into getting a ‘no unattended dogs’ sign. The same day I was trying to deal with the growling, unattended dogs, there was a large group of people having a smoke break beneath our ‘no smoking’ sign on the other side of the library. It was nice to be able to point to the sign and gently remind them that they’d need to smoke elsewhere. A sign for unattended dogs could be useful in the same way. I’m very afraid that someon is going to get bitten. Your library having had that experience tells me that it’s not an unwarranted fear! ~ Elizabeth Sensabaugh – Blacksburg Library – Blacksburg, VA
Elizabeth, Most of the libraries I’ve worked in were right next to parks, so this has occasionally happened to us as well. I would treat this situation just like I would treat someone with a rowdy kid. Rather than make a policy, I’d address people individually. I’d explain to the owner (as kindly as possible, of course) that the animal was disruptive and couldn’t be left tethered and unattended. This includes taking up a bench (someone who wants t0 use it might be allergic) or taking up the bike rack (a kid might need to get his bike but be terrified of dogs).
I might recommend them bringing a partner to sit with the little guy outside next time. Or separate trips to the library. Some people get really angry, some understand once you point out the above scenarios. Either way, I stand firm and address it every time. If it becomes an ongoing issue with one customer, I’d start progressive discipline (although that hasn’t happened). As an aside, it always amazes me that people don’t seem to really KNOW their animals. I’ve heard lots of people say that their dog won’t bite, or their dog doesn’t misbehave. HA! It’s almost as bad as a helicopter mom…MY kid is a genius! My dog is super nervous and weird and I go to great lengths to walk on the other side of the street and keep him away from other people and animals. I don’t think he would bite someone, but I’m sure as heck not taking a chance!
I also don’t get it that they think it is ok to leave their pup all alone like that. What if some sadistic pre-serial killer was walking by??? And, how about some sensitivity to people with irrational (or rational, who knows) fears or severe allergies? As a dog owner, I think about those things and it baffles me that others don’t. ~ Terry Ann Lawler – Palo Verde Library – Phoenix AZ
Then there’s the whole question of whether it’s even legal in a given state to leave a dog unattended, tethered or not, on public property. And if, as sometimes happens, people park their dog for hours while in the library, what are the humane law implications for the animal who may or may not have shade and drinking water? To consider the dogs for a moment longer, there are more than a few people who would have no problem tormenting a dog. They visit libraries from time to time, whether we like it or not. ~ Kathleen Stipek – Alachua County Library District – Gainesville, Florida
We don’t have a policy specific to dogs, but we do have policies related to undesirable patron behavior. While I haven’t had to state it to any dog owners, the one which addresses ”any behavior that endangers the safety or health of themselves or others” would be applicable. What I have said to one dog owner was that his dog was making people uncomfortable. I then asked him to move it.
We haven’t had a lot of dog parking problems since I’ve worked here and I haven’t been told of any from before. I think people in this community just accept the dogs and walk around them, for the most part. I happen to be the primary “dog person” here and have been known to suggest one of the local training organizations…
That all being said, I think I’ll show the dog parking photos that Betsy sent to my director to see if we can have something like that installed.Happy tails!~ Susan J. Hoppe – Virginia Public Library
Thanks for your reply Susan. I really appreciate that catch-all phrase of “any behavior that endangers the safety or health of themselves or others”! I’m a huge fan of dogs too, and want trail users to find using the library a convenient thing to do! But I am worried about the few owners who seem disconnected from the threat that their dogs pose to children or other people. Also, obstructing the entrance/book drop/seating areas is just so inconsiderate!~ Elizabeth Sensabaugh – Blacksburg Library – Blacksburg, VA
I had a similar situation with a dog that was tied to our bike racks for a long time on a really hot day. It turned out that our city had an ordinance that said that dogs needed to be leashed and “in control” of their owners – we were able to use that to tell the patron that they couldn’t leave the dog tied to the bike rack unattended because the owner wouldn’t be in control of the animal. You might want to check to see if you have a similar ordinance.~ Paula Wright – Appleton Public Library – WI
In my state, even snakes were considered service animals. Any legal animal could count. Someone finally put a limit on it. The challenge is when the service animal is for comfort when the person has a social anxiety or similar disorder. But obviously snakes freak out a lot of other people, so they can cause a lot of problems. To me, this is akin to the discussion on cats. I’m allergic to cats and the idea of a library cat drives me nuts. (Right now I’m getting over asthmatic bronchitis due to a bookstore with a cat. I can’t ever shop there again.) There are people who are allergic to dogs as well. And putting on my lawyer hat for a minute, if the library doesn’t kick the dogs out and the dogs bite someone, then the library will be sued as well as the owner. (Retired lawyer.)- ~ Judy Anderson
My library follows WA state guidelines which diverge from the ADA requirements. I’d check with your attorney before making a determination.
~ Carlie Hoffman - Spokane County Library District Editor’s note: ADA Guidelines set a minimum standard – your State laws and local ordinances may exceed those minimum standards.
So far, in my library career, I have had someone claim an iguana, a boa constrictor, several birds, a rabbit and various cats and dogs (including puppies who couldn’t possibly have been trained and pocket dogs with little rhinestone tiaras). I’ve learned to take it all in stride and to kick out anyone who poops on our floor.
I have had the issue of someone claiming an animal to be a service animal when it appeared to be totally untrue. While it is true that if they say it is a service animal, it IS a service animal, all service animals are still subject to our code of conduct, just like all people are. In fact, all visitors period. If an alien comes in, I’m going to address her noisy behavior. I have NO qualms about kicking out a service animal if it is behaving badly. This includes: Barking Sniffing people Lunging Yanking their owner back and forth around the library Running/Jumping/Climbing Growling or hackles up for any reason
Or any other behavior that makes our library a non-welcome environment for our other users. I do EXACTLY the same thing I would do if someone had a kid doing those things (or was an adult doing them). They get a warning and then they have to leave the 2nd time I speak with them. I will be as kind as possible, but just because your dog is performing a service for you, it cannot disrupt other library users. ~ Terry Ann Lawler – Palo Verde Library – Phoenix AZ
The ADA has a handy list of FAQs at
One of the interesting things this says is: 3. Q: How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?
A: Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. However, an individual who is going to a restaurant or theater is not likely to be carrying documentation of his or her medical condition or disability. Therefore, such documentation generally may not be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal. Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability. Soooooooooooooooooo, basically, if they say it’s a service animal — it’s a service animal…….~ Jacque Gage – Joplin Public Library – Joplin, MO
Here are the revised requirements for service animals:
One major change is that: Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.
Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. In short, service animals must be: 1)Dogs 2)Trained 3)To do work or tasks directly related to a disability. 4) That trained work is not just providing comfort or emotional support. I think the 2 questions are capable of determining whether or not a dog is a service animal. Before this change in 2010, we had a patron claiming his spider collection as service animals (for emotional support).~ Jacob Browne – Jefferson County Public Library – Lakewood CO
Beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA. In addition to the provisions about service dogs, the Department’s revised ADA regulations have a new, separate provision about miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities
~ Dusty Gres – Ohoopee Regional Library System – Vidalia, GA
I have read that cats can alert their owners to impending seizures (seizures in the human, not the cat). ~ Kevin O’Kelly - Somerville Public Library – Somerville, MA
Who sues whom when I die from anaphylactic shock in reaction to your seizure-sensing cat? ~ Nikki Ehlers – Humboldt Public Library – North Humboldt, IA
We had an issue with a patron in a wheelchair who brought her service cat with her on her lap. It’s been awhile, but as I remember, the cat was supposed to alert the woman to changes in some sort of internal functioning. We never saw the cat do anything. It was a *very* mellow cat. I’m not sure I ever saw it move. Our attorney advised us not to question her about it because of the protections afforded by the ADA, as noted by Kate Mutch. ~ Deb Messling – Phillipsburg Free Public Library - Phillipsburg, NJ
I know dogs make me feel better!~ GiGi Bayne
“We have discovered that many doctors are telling their patients that they can call their pets “service dogs” if the pets make them “feel better.” There have suddenly in this area been a plethora of purse puppies riding in grocery store carts and sitting in book bags.” This is actually addressed in the ADA regs: Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. As others have mentioned, although you cannot ask for documentation, you can ask what specific tasks the animal is trained to perform. ~ Carolyn Rawles-Heiser -Benton County Public Library – Corvallis, OR
We have discovered that many doctors are telling their patients that they can call their pets “service dogs” if the pets make them “feel better.” There have suddenly in this area been a plethora of purse puppies riding in grocery store carts and sitting in book bags. There is a serious issue with insurance coverage. The certified service dog is covered. Others are not, and it is the library who is liable for any problem. You can require that the dog be on a leash & under control, on an individual basis you can ask for shot records & city license/tag, require the dog to be clean/groomed and deal with other safety and health issues. Thankfully, we have not had to deal with the other legally defined service animal – miniature horses — but I am certain it will happen. ~ Dusty Gres Director Ohoopee Regional Library System – Vidalia, GA
This has become an issue in our town. There’s a gentleman who claims that his dog is a ”hearing” dog. He does not have an apparent hearing problem, the dog has not been professionally trained (in fact, it’s not all that well-behaved in general), and based on some of the other things this patron has told us, we do not give much credence to his stories. (And then one could ask, does he really need a hearing dog in the library?) ~ Ann Perrigo Ann @ Allegan
By jove, all dawgs are hearing dogs! Of course, he’s a hearing dawg, and a buddie too! And sense he’s a hearing dawg, he is welcome to come into the library, naturally. Cheers, ~ Shannon Williams – Longview, TX
Aren’t service animals required to be certified? Check with whatever agency performs certification. Your state or county agency that serves the blind and disabled is a place to start. A hearing-impaired person would require a service animal to alert his/her user when someone wants to pass, or in case of an emergency to get out of the building. ~ Sue Kamm
I highly recommend “Until Tuesday” By Luis Carlos Montalvan – A Veteran and the service dog that saved him and their continued advocacy and education about service dogs. ~ Kate Mutch – Natrona County Public Library – Casper, WY
Beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA. In addition to the provisions about service dogs, the Department’s revised ADA regulations have a new, separate provision about miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities ~ Dusty Gres
And horse manure makes for excellent compost. ~ Kathi Kemp
Miniature horses as service animals? I would love to see our library filled with tiny little horses. We could train them to do useful tasks for staff as well.
We have a kids’ program where some dogs are brought into the children’s area and the kids ”read” to them. I popped my head in this week to see what that looked like. A lot of poor, long suffering dogs, lying helplessly whilst having board books thrust in their faces so they can look at all the nice pictures. Very small children molesting dogs much larger than themselves, and using them as beanbags/jungle gyms. Parents smiling benevolently and taking lots of pictures.
I swear, when this one big St. Bernard cross looked at me, if he could have spoken, he would have begged me to find him an avalanche somewhere so he could get out of there. But he just lay there on his mat, patiently, listening to the “story” and allowing himself to be battered by a board book and a two year old. I’m fine with the animals. It’s the people who worry me. ) ~ Jo Choto – Frederick County Public Libraries
Someone sent me this link . ~ Nann Blaine Hilyard – Nann @the library in Zion, Illinois
I’ve been campaigning for a library hippopotamus for years ~ Kevin Okelly
Mr. O’Kelly’s comment had me thinking of a line that funny Christmas song-”all I want for Christmas is a hippopotamus.” : ~ Elisa Babel - Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library - Washington, DC
A library hippopotamus! I love it! Thanks for the morning giggle. And you’re not the only one leaning toward the hippo biblioteca. Here’s what a quick google-image search for ”reading hippopatamus” and “library hippopotamus” netted:
~ Audrey Jo DeVillier- Iberville Parish Library – Plaquemine, LA
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