Service Dogs: More Than A Pet

service dogsby Stefani Fortney, ABCDT In a world where our pets are becoming more integrated into our everyday lives, some people have taken advantage of necessarily vague Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) language about to service animals. There are always folks who will commit fraud to take sweet little Fluffmonster to Panera Bread, or bring Skittlebits to the grocery store. Others lie about the status of their family pet to avoid extra travel fees or hotel restrictions. Let me be very clear—this is unacceptable, irresponsible behavior. It harms those who have legitimate reasons to bring their service dogs into public areas. 

What is a service dog?

According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, only dogs (and, in special circumstances, miniature horses) can be considered service animals. To be a service dog, the dog in question must be specifically trained to perform a task required by a person with a physical, mental, sensory, or psychological disability. This includes—but isn’t limited to—tasks like leading a visually impaired person, signaling a person with limited hearing, steadying a person with mobility or balance impairment, pulling a wheelchair, providing physical comforting contact to an individual with PTSD, etc. Service dogs are more than pets… they are working animals who perform specific duties. Although there is no certification required to be recognized as working service animals, service dogs, and their handlers are protected by both federal and state law.

Where can service dogs go?

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally, must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. Business owners are legally only able to ask two questions of people who bring a service dog into their facility:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What specific task is the service dog trained to perform?

Service dogs can’t be denied entry based on past negative experiences with other service animals. Businesses can’t charge extra fees for a disabled individual person to be accompanied by their service dog. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.

Are there requirements or rules for service dogs?

There are regulations for service dogs. Since these animals are legally allowed in all public spaces, and there’s no required certification or licensing, it’s important to realize that they don’t have a “free pass.”

Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. When the use of these devices isn’t possible,  the dog music be under voice, signal or other effective control.

A person with a disability can’t be asked to remove his service dog from the premises unless:

  • the dog is out of control, and the handler does not take effective action to control it
  • the dog is not housebroken.

If a service dog causes damages to a facility, the dogs handler is responsible for those damages.

So remember—if your dog isn’t specifically trained to do work or perform tasks to help a disabled individual, then your dog is NOT a service dog.


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