Service Animals


What is a Service Animal?

A service animal is a dog that is trained to work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Other animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purpose of this definition and are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability.

Examples of work or tasks performed by service animals include, but are not limited to:

  • Guide Dogs - assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks.
  • Hearing Dogs - alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds.
  • Support Dogs - providing non-violent protection or rescue work; pulling an individual using a wheelchair; assisting an individual during a seizure; alerting individuals to the presence of allergens; retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone; providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities; and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.

Requirements of a Service Animal

A service animal must be under the control of its handler, and should wear a harness, leash, or tether, unless that equipment would interfere with the service animal’s performance of work or tasks, in which case the service animal must be otherwise under the handler’s control (i.e., voice control, signals, or other effective means). The service animal must be housebroken and must not display aggression toward people or animals.

Legal Provisions for a Service Animal

There are multiple laws that protect the rights of service animals and make it illegal to discriminate against or deny access to people who have service animals, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Air Carrier Access Act, and the Fair Housing Act.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, public and private entities that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are allowed . This federal law applies to all businesses open to the public, including government agencies, restaurants, hotels, public transit, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos.

In 2011, the Americans with Disabilities Act was amended and substantially modified to define a service animal as a dog or miniature horse.

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees and applicants with disabilities. Allowing an individual with a disability to have their service animal or an emotional support animal accompany them to work or a job interview may be considered a reasonable accommodation. If the employee or applicant’s disability is not obvious or the reason the animal is needed is not clear, then documentation may be required to establish the existence of a disability and how the animal helps the individual perform their job. Both service and emotional support animals may be excluded from the workplace if they pose an undue hardship in the workplace or misbehave.

Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate passengers with disabilities. Under the law, service animals are permitted in airports, on airport shuttles, and on airplanes. In addition, airports must provide relief areas for service animals.

Service and emotional support animals are allowed on airplanes, however, individuals who travel with emotional support animals may have to provide much more documentation to establish that they have a disability and the reason the animal must travel with them.

For a service animal, air carriers should accept identification cards, written documentation, presence of harnesses, tags, or the verbal assurances of a qualified individual with a disability using the service animal as evidence that the animal is a service animal.

For emotional support and psychiatric service animals, airlines may require documentation (not more than one year old) on letterhead from a licensed mental health professional stating that the passenger has a mental health-related disability,   that having the animal accompany the passenger is necessary to the passenger's mental health or treatment, that the individual providing the assessment of the passenger is a licensed mental health professional and the passenger is under his or her professional care; and the date and type of the mental health professional's license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued. This documentation may be required as a condition of permitting the animal to accompany the passenger in the cabin.

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act is a civil rights law that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in housing. Under the law, service animals must be permitted for people with disabilities. Rules about pets that housing entities may have such as a “no pets policy” or size and weight restrictions do not apply to service animals. 

An individual with a disability who requests a reasonable accommodation may be asked to provide documentation so that the landlord or homeowners’ association can properly review the accommodation request. They can ask a person to certify, in writing, (1) that the tenant or a member of his or her family is a person with a disability; (2) the need of the service animal to assist the person with that specific disability; and (3) the service animal actually assists the person with a disability.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a civil rights law that protects people with disabilities against discrimination in federal agencies and entities that received federal funding. Under the law, service animals are permitted in all federal government facilities, activities, and programs that are open to the public.

Service Animals in School Settings

Students with disabilities who have service animals are generally allowed to have the animal with them while at school under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

An important factor in determining whether the service animal can stay with a student is the student’s ability to handle and control the animal. This is not generally an issue in middle school or high school, but it is often an issue in elementary school. The school may require the child/handler to be in control of the service animal at all times, and to be responsible for the service animal’s care and supervision.

Colleges and universities must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the campus that are open to the public or to students.

Students who use a service animal may be required to contact the school’s disability services department to register as a student with a disability. Higher education entities cannot require documentation regarding the training or certification of any service animal, but they may require proof that the service animal has required vaccinations.

Miniature Horses

A miniature horse is not included in the definition of service animal, which is limited to dogs. However, public accommodations must make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The public accommodation may take into account a series of assessment factors in determining whether to allow a miniature horse into a specific facility. These include the type, size, and weight of the miniature horse, whether the handler has sufficient control of the miniature horse, whether the miniature horse is housebroken, and whether the miniature horse’s presence in a specific facility compromises legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation. Because miniature horses can vary in size and can be larger and less flexible than dogs, public entities may exclude this type of service animal if the presence of a miniature horse results in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the service provided.

Miniature horses can provide service for more than 25 years while dogs can provide service, on average, for approximately seven years, and, because of their strength, miniature horses can provide services that dogs cannot provide. Accordingly, use of miniature horses reduces the cost involved to retire, replace, and train replacement service animals. The miniature horse is not one specific breed, but may be one of several breeds, with distinct characteristics that produce animals suited to service animal work. They generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders, and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds. These characteristics are similar to large breed dogs such a Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, and Mastiffs.

Service Animal Etiquette

When you meet a person with a service dog, please remember that the service animal is working. Do not interrupt the service dog while it is performing its tasks. Here are some interaction guidelines:

  • Speak to the person first. Do not make distracting noises at the service animal.
  • Do not touch the service animal without asking permission first.
  • Do not offer food to the service animal.
  • Do not ask personal questions about the handler's disability, or otherwise intrude on his or her privacy.
  • Do not be offended if the handler does not wish to talk about the service dog.

Inquiries about a Service Animal

A public entity representative may not ask about the nature or extent of a person’s disability, but may make two inquiries to determine whether a dog qualifies as a service animal. Generally, a public entity representative may not make these inquiries about a service animal when it is readily apparent that an animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability (i.e., the dog is observed guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision, pulling a person’s wheelchair, or providing assistance with stability or balance to an individual with an observable mobility disability).

 A public entity may ask:

  • If the dog is required because of a disability, and
  •  What work or task the dog has been trained to perform.

Training Service Animals

Phase 1: Early in the dog’s life, at about eight weeks of age, the dog is placed in the home of a volunteer puppy raiser where it is taught basic obedience, socialization, and given love and affection. An important part of the puppy-raising program involves exposure of the young dog to settings and situations that are similar to what it will experience during its working life. The volunteers receive careful training on how to start the dog on its working career.

Phase 2: At about 18 months of age, the dogs are brought back to a formal training facility for an average of 6-12 months of intensive training where they learn specialized skills, commands, and tasks. During this training, the trainer will take the dog to places such as malls, grocery stores, movie theaters, and restaurants to acclimate it to being in public.

Phase 3: After the dog has been trained, it is matched with a potential owner, and they participate together in training for approximately two weeks. During that time, they learn to work together, become independent as a team, and start a bonding process that normally lasts for the rest of the dog’s working life. While the average working life of a service dog is seven years, some have worked to the age of 12 or 13. After retirement, they generally revert to being pets.

Service Animal Directory

These organizations provide service animals nationwide to people with disabilities.

All Purpose Canines
www.allpurposecanines.com 254-647-3515
Provides service dogs to children with autism.

Blessings Unleashed
www.blessingsunleashed.org 270-678-5908
Provides service dogs to children over the age of 4 who have autism.

Blue Ridge Assistance Dogs
www.blueridgeassistancedogs.org 703-369-5878
Provides service dogs to children and adults with physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, balance issues, autism, seizure disorders, and diabetes.

Canine Angels Service Teams
www.canine-angels.org/ 541-846-6400
Provides service dogs to children and young adults between the ages of 5-25 with physical and developmental disabilities.

Canine Companions for Independence
www.cci.org 800-572-2275
Provides service dogs to individuals ages 18 and older with physical disabilities; hearing dogs; and companion dogs for children 5 and older and adults with physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities.

Canine Partners for Life
www.k94life.org 610-869 4902
Provides service dogs to individuals ages 10 and older who have physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and seizure disorders.

Canines for Service
www.caninesforservice.org 866-910-3647
Provides service dogs to individuals ages 10 and older who have disabilities.

Fidos for Freedom
www.fidosforfreedom.org 410-880-4178
Provide service and hearing dogs to individuals ages 18 and older who have disabilities.

Freedom Service Dogs of America
www.freedomservicedogs.org 303-922-6231
Provide service dogs to individuals ages 12 and older who have physical disabilities or autism.

Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind
www.guidedog.org 800-548-4337
Provides guide dogs to people ages 16 and older who are blind or have low vision.

Guide Dogs for the Blind
www.guidedogs.com 800-295-4050
Provides guide dogs to people ages 16 and older who are blind or have low vision.

Guide Dogs of America
www.guidedogsofamerica.org 818-362-5834
Provides guide dogs to people ages 16 or older who are blind or have low vision.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind
www.guidingeyes.org 800-942-0149
Provides guide dogs to people ages 16 and older who are blind or low vision, as well as service dogs to children with autism ages 2-9.

KSDS Service Dog Program
www.ksds.org 785-325-2256
Provides service dogs to people with physical and guide dogs to individuals who are blind or have low vision.

Leader Dogs for the Blind
www.leaderdog.org 888-777-5332
Provides guide dogs to people ages 16 and older who are blind or have low vision.

NEADS Dogs for the Deaf and Disabled Americans
www.neads.org 978-422-9064
Provides hearing dogs for people who are deaf and hard of hearing; service dogs to individuals with physical disabilities; and social dogs to children ages 6 and over who have autism.

Patriot PAWS Service Animals
www.patriotpaws.org 972-772-3282
Provides service animals to veterans with physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Power Paws Assistance Dogs
www.azpowerpaws.org 480-945-0754
Provides service animals to people with physical disabilities; diabetic alert dogs; and hearing dogs for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Puppies Behind Bars
www.puppiesbehindbars.com 212-680-9562
Provides service animals to veterans with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorders.

Saint Francis Service Dogs
www.saintfrancisdogs.org 540-342-3647
Provides service dogs to people with disabilities.

Seeing Eye
www.seeingeye.org 973-539-4425
Provides guide dogs to people ages 16-75 who are blind.

Service Dog Project
www.servicedogproject.org 978-356-0666
Provides service dogs to individuals with physical disabilities or balance issues.

Service Dogs for America
www.servicedogsforamerica.org/ 877-737-8364
Provides service dogs to individuals with physical disabilities ages 8 and older.

Service Dogs of Virginia
www.servicedogsva.org 434-295-9503
Provides service dogs to individuals with physical disabilities ages 12 and older; children with autism ages 4 and older; and diabetic alert dogs to individuals ages 12 and older.

Support Dogs
www.supportdogs.org 314-997-2325
Provide service dogs to individuals with physical disabilities ages 6 and older; hearing dogs to individuals ages 18 and older who are deaf or hard of hearing; and veterans and first responders ages 18 and older with post-traumatic stress disorder.

 


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