Tennessee Bill Bars Support Animals From Entering Restaurant Dining Rooms

Dog eating a dish in a restaurant
Dog eating a dish in a restaurant - Capuski/Getty Images

In Tennessee, animal-loving foodies are no longer permitted to bring their emotional support animals into restaurants statewide. The only exceptions are trained service animals and security dogs accompanying law enforcement personnel. The bill was signed into law by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on March 15, reports Restaurant Business.

The animal ban might seem a little egregious at first glance, but reportedly, the "what-is and what-is-not an emotional support animal" debate has emerged as a serious problem for Tennessee restaurants. Many patrons have allegedly been abusing the rule, claiming it as an excuse to bring their furry friends along for dinner. Employees have had to deal with a myriad of unhappy pet-wielding consumers looking to enter the dining room, and it's an unpleasant conversation to navigate. The new ruling alleviates the burden on the staff, who no longer have to make the call on a weirdly personal-feeling case-by-case basis. Workers now have the right to turn away diners with animals.

As of 2023, 23 U.S. states had laws or administrative regulations of some sort that allow dogs (not service animals) in the outdoor patios of restaurants. Still, the outdoor patio area is a very different matter from the dining room inside. Indoors, there's more concern about contamination or disease risks. Beyond that even if the pets are perfectly healthy and well-behaved, shedding and drooling pose glaring hygiene issues. Other guests might be allergic to the animal. Or, maybe the owner hasn't vaccinated their pet.

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Barking Into Some Potentially Difficult Territory

Two restaurant patrons in the interior dining room with a dog
Two restaurant patrons in the interior dining room with a dog - Ika84/Getty Images

Service animals perform a variety of responsibilities for persons with disabilities, and they are defended by federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Emotional support animals (which provide comfort and companionship) are protected by the Fair Housing Act, but they are not considered service animals and therefore are not granted passage to all the same public spaces as humans. Also, per the ADA, only dogs and miniature horses can be officially considered service animals. Any other species of pet is not recognized.

It might seem fairly straightforward in concept, but implementing this new statewide restaurant ruling introduces some unsavory implications. Are disabled persons now required to carry their certification papers with them? Per the ADA, restaurant personnel are not permitted to ask handlers specific questions about their disabilities or request the animal to demonstrate its trained behavior(s). Service animals are also not required to wear an official vest or other visual indicators of their work. Notably, the new Tennessee bill does not specify exactly how guests can or should indicate that their pet is a formally trained service animal.

Nashville-based dog trainer Parker Fillmore told local news outlet WKRN News 2 that his business has seen an influx of dog owners looking to get their pets trained and certified as service animals since the bill was first filed in January. According to FOX 17 Nashville, Tennessee legislators are reportedly looking to enact similar animal restrictions in grocery stores statewide in 2025.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.