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Snake on subway may sssssserve a purpose

Dogs aren't the only service animals, N.Y. transit officers are told.

May 05, 2008|Rocco Parascandola | Newsday

NEW YORK — That monkey on the subway? Illegal in the city, but not if the owner has a disability. The guy with the snake on the bus? Leave him alone. He needs it for emotional support.

The Police Department Patrol Guide, a thick-and-getting-thicker collection of rules and regulations, has been amended to let officers know that seeing-eye dogs are not the only service animals.

It is not just the blind who can have service animals, the Patrol Guide now says, but also those with epilepsy, heart disease, lung disease and other conditions, including mental disorders.

A service animal can pick up items dropped by its owner, signal for help if its owner has a seizure or collapses, or help calm an owner who has a panic disorder or other mental illness.

Service animals are also allowed on the transit system accompanied by professional trainers, an internal NYPD memo says.

The Patrol Guide revision was made to "clarify the department's obligations under the Americans With Disabilities Act," the memo says.

Under the act, people accompanied by animals are not required to carry paperwork proving that they are disabled or that their animal is a service animal. That has led to fraud, police sources say. Some officers report they've encountered people whose animals seemed to be simply along for the ride.

Patrol Guide updates are routine, an NYPD spokesman said. The department would not elaborate on the provision.

Becky Barnes, a manager with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a Westchester County service-dog school, said it was not uncommon for people to try to pass off exotic animals like pythons as service animals.

Such claims are often scams, she said, "but more and more doctors are writing prescriptions for people needing dogs or other animals for emotional support."

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