Don't be surprised if you find yourself sitting near a horse the next time you dine out.
Without comment, Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday signed legislation spelling out what is considered a "service animal'' in Arizona. And while, as expected, that includes dogs, it also includes miniature horses, meaning anything up to 36 inches at the shoulder and 100 pounds -- presumably potty trained.
More to the point, the law spells out that if a person meets the conditions necessary to have a service animal, there's little that the other patrons or the establishment itself can do about it.
The measure signed by Brewer actually is just updating existing state statutes that cover service animals. In fact, it actually could mean fewer animals -- or at least fewer types of animals -- sharing restaurants, movie theaters and restrooms.
Federal law requires that places of public accommodation must also allow individuals to bring their service animals. Arizona law has mirrored that statute.
But what's on the books now in Arizona does not define what constitutes a service animal.
One restaurant owner said that has led to individuals bringing ferrets, parrots and squirrels. And, given the law, she told legislators she was powerless to declare them off limits.
The new law that takes effect later this year does more than narrow the list to dogs and miniature horses. It also means that individuals can no longer declare they need an animal solely for "comfort'' or emotional support.
Instead, there is a list of what kinds of work or tasks are considered acceptable. These range from assisting those with vision or hearing impairment to pulling wheelchairs, retrieving items and even alerting individuals to the presence of certain allergens.
Potentially trickier for business owners is that while animals strictly for "comfort'' need not be admitted, they must accommodate animals that calm someone with post traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack. And that includes helping those with psychiatric and neurological disorders "by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.''
And the federal law, which still must be obeyed, says when a disability is not obvious a business owner may ask only two questions: is the animal required because of a disability, and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform.
But they cannot inquire about the person's disability or require medical documentation. They also cannot demand a special identification card or ask that the animal demonstrate the ability to perform the task.
As to why the horses are on the list, part of that is because that's what's required by federal law.
But Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, said horses also can live up to 30 years. That means having to train fewer animals as well as promoting a long-term relationship between owner and helper.
She also said they are more useful than dogs at pulling wheelchairs simply because they are stronger.
The law does permit a property owner to deny admission to a service animal if it "poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others'' or the animal "pose