The Department of Justice has set federal rules in the Americans with Disabilities Act to protect people with disabilities regarding their service animals. The act specifies what a service animal is, where service animals are allowed, owner responsibilities and the rights of disabled people with service animals. Learn everything you need to know about service animal laws to protect your rights.
Definition of a Service Animal
In 2010, the DOJ set new regulations for the ADA that pertain to service animals. Enactment of the new regulations began March 15, 2011. Title II and title III of the ADA recognize dogs as service animals, which the organization defines as working dogs that perform specific functions or tasks to help physically or mentally disabled people. Note, though, that the ADA does not recognize emotional-support service animals. A service animal must perform a function or task that is directly related to a need the disabled person requires assistance with. Some examples of functions or tasks service animals perform include guiding a visually disabled person, detecting seizures, reminding a disabled person to take medication and calming a person with post traumatic stress disorder.
Provision for Miniature Horses
Titles II and III of the ADA do not recognize miniature horses as service animals, however the ADA does have a separate provision that recognizes miniature horses as service animals. Just as with dogs, a service-animal miniature horse must be trained to perform tasks or functions for a disabled person. The ADA specifies that within reason, service-animal miniature horses must be permitted in all establishments where the general public is allowed. In some circumstances establishments may disallow entry of a service animal miniature horse. There are four reasons an establishment can deny entry to a service animal miniature horse, which are:
1) The miniature horse is not housebroken. 2) The owner does not have control of the miniature horse. 3) The facility cannot accommodate the size or weight of the horse. 4) Entrance of the miniature horse would interfere with the safe operation of the facility.
Training of a Service Animal
A service animal must be individually trained to assist a disabled person. The ADA does not have a licensing or certification process that service animals must undergo, nor does it specify who must train the service animals. It also does not require that service animals wear identifying collars, vests or other gear. Service animals can be trained by professional trainers or by the owners.
Other Types of Service Animals
Individual states may allow other types of animals -- in addition to dogs and horses -- to act as service animals. In addition, establishments can choose to allow entrance to other types of service animals in addition to dogs and miniature horses.
Owner Responsibilities Regarding a Service Animal
Owners have the responsibility of keeping their service animals well-behaved. The owners must keep their service animals under control at all times. A service animal is required to be on a leash unless the leash prevents the animal from performing its duties. If the service animal is not leashed, the owner must keep it under control using other methods such as voice commands or hand signals. Establishments are not required to care for service animals. Owners must provide all care for and cleanup after the service animals.
Where Can You Bring Your Service Animal?
The ADA specifies that service animals must be allowed in any place that the general public is allowed, even if state or local laws such as health codes disallow the entrance of animals. Even hospitals must allow service animals; however, service animals can be excluded from operating rooms due to sterility protocols. Service animals are not pets, according to the ADA. Landlords must allow disabled renters to live with their service animals in rental properties. Even businesses with "no pet" policies must allow service animals. Businesses cannot charge a service animal user a deposit for the service animal, even if deposits are normally required for pets. The business can, however, charge the owner for any damages the service animal causes.
There are very few reasons an establishment can force an owner to remove a service animal. An establishment may force the removal of a service animal if the animal is displaying vicious behavior. In rare instances, an establishment may ask owners to remove service animals that are excessively barking if the barking is disruptive to the function of the business, such as in a movie theater.
What Can Establishments Ask About Service Animals?
The ADA allows establishments to ask owners of service dogs only two questions. The two allowed questions are:
1) Is the animal a service animal needed for a disability? 2) What function or task is the service animal trained to do?
An establishment cannot ask any additional questions, cannot require medical documentation, cannot ask for training documentation for the service animal and cannot ask the owner to have the service animal demonstrate tasks or functions.
Federal Versus State and Local Service Animal Laws
The ADA is a federal act. Federal law trumps state and city laws. A state or city can impose its own service animal laws as long as the laws do not go against the federal ADA. So, state and local laws can be more lenient and allow more protections for owners of service animals but cannot be more strict by taking away service animal protections.
Other Service Animal Acts
The ADA does not limit other acts that provide broader protections for service animals. Examples of two acts with broader protections are the Air Carrier Act and HUD's "pets in elderly housing" regulation.
The Department of Transportation's Air Carrier Act allows therapy companion animals and emotional support animals in the cabin of an airplane if the owner has a note on letterhead stationary from a licensed mental health provider stating the animal is required for a disability. The letter must be less than 1 year old. The airline can require health certificates and health documentation for the service animal. In addition, the airline can questions owners about their disabilities.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allows senior citizens in public elderly housing to have pet companions. HUD specifies that each unit may have only one pet companion and that the pet must be no more than 20 inches tall and weigh no more than 40 pounds.
- USDA: A Brief Information Resource on Assistance Animals for the Disabled
- ADA: Regulations on the Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities
- ADA: Fact Sheet on the Highlights of the Final Rule to Amend the Department of Justice's Regulation Implementing Title II of the ADA
- ADA: 2010 Revised ADA Requirements on Service Animals
- IAADP: ADA Training Requirements
- ADA: Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business
- HUD: PHA Plans
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