Service Animals at Church: Keeping Everyone Safe

Fri, Dec 14, 2018 at 4:10PM

Service Animals at Church: Keeping Everyone Safe

As a responsible and caring church leader, you’re consistently in tune with the needs of your congregation. You’re focused on ensuring your house of worship is a safe and comfortable space where everyone can gather to enjoy fellowship and deepen in faith tradition. There are times, however, when you’ll be faced with difficult decisions. One of those is whether to allow service animals inside your church.

By law, any establishment that caters to the public (such as restaurants and shops) must adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. However, in most states, non-profit organizations (including churches) are exempt from those rules. That means the choice is largely left up to church leaders like you.  

While it’s understandable and commendable that you’d want to make accommodations for all people who visit your church, you may also have questions and reservations surrounding service and therapy pets. Read on to learn more about this important decision, and how you can protect your church at all times.

Know and Respect the Law

As mentioned, there’s no legal requirement in most states that churches allow service/therapy animals. Still, as a compassionate church leader, you realize that many scenarios present  ‘letter of the law versus spirit of the law’ decisions. It’s also wise to note that “looking” disabled is not a prerequisite to requiring a service/therapy dog. It’s often impossible to recognize what people are dealing with simply by sight.

While only you and your constituents can arrive at a final conclusion, it’s important to know that there are exceptions to the mentioned rules. For example, if your church participates in a regular food pantry program, service/therapy pets must be admitted with their owners in compliance with ADA regulations. The same goes for public meetings (such as AA), bazaars and rummage sales, and similar.

Even in the absence of such events, it’s essential to secure comprehensive church insurance. Doing so will protect your religious buildings as well as those who visit your church. This essential coverage safeguards your structure and congregation from a variety of threats, including fire, vandalism, slip and fall accidents, and more.

Set and Stick to Ground Rules

Many times, the decision whether or not to allow service/therapy animals in church is based (at least partly) on the opinions and reservations of fellow church members. Some people are concerned about illness, allergies, or possible disease. Others may fear being in close proximity to animals.

To appease all parishioners (and in attempts to reach common ground), many church leaders choose to hold separate gatherings for those who require service and/or therapy pets. This decision is, of course, entirely up to you.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to update your church insurance policy when any changes or updates are made. A friendly and qualified agent can assist you in making these revisions, as well as answer any questions you may have about the process.

Educate All Parishioners

Whenever churches mull acceptance of service/therapy pets, there’s often a great deal of confusion and even consternation surrounding the decision. That’s why it’s important to get all church members on the same page as soon as possible. Your congregation should also be advised on how to behave around these animals.

For example, service/therapy pets have a job to do, and accompany their owner for a set purpose. Therefore, they shouldn’t be touched or interacted with in any way. Sometimes, the pet owner will permit people to “say hello,” but such an invitation shouldn’t be assumed or taken for granted. In any case, your staff and/or volunteers aren’t responsible for providing accommodation to service/therapy pets (food/water, latrine area).

Safeguard Your Church and Congregation

While your main focus is on the growth and prosperity of your religious organization (and the spiritual development of your parishioners), it’s paramount to put in place safeguards to your building and church members. That process starts by securing comprehensive church insurance from a trusted and reputable firm with a solid track record of proven results.

For years, we’ve been the go-to resource for a variety of insurance needs. That includes school insurance, fire protection insurance, plus valuable protection for businesses, bars and taverns, and much more. Contact us today to learn how you can consistently safeguard your church through innovative insurance solutions. 

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