While wandering through a store in Boston's Downtown Crossing, I happened to come across a sign at the entrance to a major retailer that said, "Only Registered Services Animals Permitted." This raises a question that many retailers and commercial offices have: what kinds of restrictions can they impose on service animals? A policy that demands "registration" of service animals may not be a good idea.

The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office provides a useful webpage answering many of the important compliance questions that businesses have.

A couple notable statements that I would draw attention to: "Currently, there is no state or national certification available for service animals so businesses are not permitted to inquire if the animal is licensed or certified or whether the animal has identification papers." 

Also: "To differentiate between pets and service animals, businesses can ask the person with a disability if the animal is a service animal required because of a disability. They can also ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform. Once an individual answers these questions the business may not question them further or separate the animal from the individual except as noted above. Businesses may not inquire about the individual’s disability."

The underlying body of law rests on the principle that persons with disabilities should have access to businesses and public spaces. In turn, businesses and offices should probably use policies that favor access over restrictions.

We are what we eat


After eating some very delicious Christmas and New Years meals with family and friends, I've realized that few personal freedoms are as close to our hearts and daily lives as being able to eat what we choose. When governments step in to regulate what we eat on grounds other than public health and safety, there should be careful scrutiny of such rules. In a small, but important case in federal district court in California, the state's ban against foie gras -- based on legitimate concerns about animal cruelty in its production -- was overturned on the grounds of federal regulatory preemption. In other words, the comprehensive nature of the federal regulations trumped the state's attempt to impose its own wholesale ban on a product. Here's the New York Times article

The lesson goes beyond foie gras and beyond California. Businesses of all sizes would be well served by being willing to carefully scrutinize state and municipal regulations and licensing practices for overreach and excessive micromanagement of legitimate activities. Governments do not have unfettered or unlimited regulatory authority. 

Happy New Year!
Cats are not an appropriate source of foie gras.
As 2014 draws to a close, charitable donations appear to have gently risen from past years. Donors and charitable beneficiaries should be aware of IRS guidance on charitable giving and tax deductions so that good intentions don't become a problem later down the line.

Individuals who routinely foster animals on behalf of tax-exempt charitable organizations may wish to (carefully!) consider whether or not their activities qualify as charitable contributions.

Sadly, no tax deductions are available to me for accidentally feeding the squirrel who lives next door by having my bird feeder in his tree. I hope he enjoyed his suet.

Dogs . . . and cats and horses and the occasional goat . . . have pride of place in my heart. And the small businesswomen and men who serve them have my deep respect and loyalty. People such as Melissa McCue-McGrath, of MuttStuff in Somerville, Massachusetts, an extraordinary trainer and entrepreneur.