Written by: Mitra Bolouri, D.D.S. (Dallas County Dental Society Member)
These days, it’s not uncommon to see dogs everywhere you go. Hop on a plane, stroll through the mall or enjoy brunch on a sunny patio and it’s highly likely someone will have man’s best friend with them. Many times, these furry companions will be labeled as emotional support animals or therapy animals. But are you required to let them in your dental office?
There are many reasons to ban pets from your dental office. Allergies to pet dander are common and can be very severe. You may not know how you, a member of your staff or another patient will react until the dog is already in the operatory. Some people have a genuine fear of dogs, no matter their size. While the presence of one may calm down one patient, it may give another one anxiety or cause them to leave. Infection control is another valid concern. Some owners may not keep up with their pet’s cleanliness or shots, which could cause harm in an environment we strive to keep as clean as possible.
An emotional support animal differs from a service animal. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is specifically trained to provide assistance to a disabled individual and must be allowed to accompany their owner. Emotional support animals, however, do not undergo any special training.
You may ask specific questions to determine if a dog is a service animal. The only questions you may ask are:
1. Are you disabled?
2. Is that a service animal?
3. What service does the animal do that helps you?
Even if these questions are answered adequately, you do not need to let a service animal remain in your office if the animal is unreasonably dirty, barking out of context of providing a service to the owner or acting aggressively. You may also ask to have the dog demonstrate the service they provide if you remain doubtful.
Emotional support animals are not protected by state or federal laws. While many dentists choose to allow them in their office, you are legally not required to do so. In Texas, the only laws protecting emotional support animals are in regards to allowing them on airplanes and in housing, even if there is a no pets policy in place. If you feel a patient may truly benefit from having their emotional support animal present, you may think about scheduling them at a time when no other patients are present or letting other patients know beforehand that a dog will be in the office. You may find it best to have a written policy in place so that you and your staff will know how to answer patients’ questions regarding emotional support animals should they arise.