SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A southwest Missouri woman has asked the Springfield-Greene County Health Department to allow her to take her pet monkey into local restaurants as a service animal.
Debby Rose, of Springfield, says Richard, her bonnet macaque monkey, provides emotional support that allows her to overcome an anxiety disorder and go out in public places like restaurants. Rose said the federal Americans With Disabilities Act should allow the practice.
Officials met Friday to discuss the issue.
The health department had earlier allowed the monkey but advised restaurants in a Sept. 5 letter that Richard does not meet service-animal requirements and cannot be allowed into food establishments.
Recent complaints from patrons at one restaurant sparked further research, and the department decided that the practice was not covered by ADA, said Ron Boyer, assistant director of the health department.
"Bottom line is, the monkey performs no service for her (Rose) under the definition of government regulations and cannot be classified, and therefore, cannot go into a food establishment," Boyer wrote in a Sept. 5 letter sent to area restaurants. A copy also was sent to Rose.
Officials from the health department and Southwest Center for Independent Living met Friday morning, according to a health department spokeswoman, who could not immediately say what the result of the meeting was.
Family members said Rose's anxiety is disabling. Without her monkey, she's less able to manage normal tasks, such as grocery shopping and dining out because of severe anxiety.
Rose said she was aware that the monkey's presence upset at least one customer at a recent outing at a buffet-style restaurant.
Jodi Daniel was the health inspector who received complaints from that outing, prompting her to call the federal ADA hot line.
"What they consider a service animal is that the animal is trained by someone to perform a specific task," said Daniel, who did not get the name of the woman who answered the ADA hot line.
Cynthia Magnuson, a spokeswoman from the Justice Department in Washington, told the Springfield News-Leader that while the law is somewhat vague regarding emotional support animals, they are covered.
"We have actually prosecuted cases where people have had emotional support animals," she said. "It's kind of a fine line, but the law errs on the side of protecting individuals that are disabled."