Service Animals and the ADA Regulations

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accords special rights and protections to handlers of service animals. It is important for every service animal handler to know their legal rights so that they can exercise them appropriately. Handlers should also understand their responsibilities so that no one else is unnecessarily troubled. In this article, we are providing details of ADA regulations for service animals through some frequently asked questions about service animals and the ADA Regulations.

What is a Service Animal according to the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Service Animals, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, are dogs individually trained to do work or perform tasks for persons with disabilities. Service Animals are working animals, not pets. The work for which the dog has been trained must be directly related to a person’s disability. The work may include –

  • Guiding a blind person
  • Alerting a deaf person
  • Pulling wheelchair or picking object for the wheelchair user
  • Alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure
  • Reminding a person with a mental disorder to take medicine on time
  • Calming a person with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during anxiety attacks

What type of working animal cannot be called Service Animals under ADA?

Animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support can’t be classified as Service Animals under ADA. They may, however, come under the broader definition of Service Animals under the Air Carrier Access Act. They are also included in the definition of Assistance Animals under the Fair Housing Act.

Are the Service Animals required to be trained professionally?

No. ADA does not require a service animal to be trained professionally or to hold any certification about their ability to perform a certain task. Persons with disabilities are free to train their service animals themselves without taking any professional help.

Are Service-Animal-in-Training considered Service Animal under ADA?

No. An animal cannot be claimed to be Service Animal unless it has been completely trained. The animal must be already trained before being taken to public places.

What animals can be used as Service Animals?

As per the definition of Service Animals provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act, ONLY dogs can be used as service animals.

However, there are separate provisions for miniature horses that have been individually trained to work for a person with a disability. So, a person with a disability who has some issues with owning a dog may opt for a miniature horse.

A miniature horse, for this purpose, means a horse with height (measured to the shoulder) between the range of 24 inches and 34 inches. And, should weigh between 70 pounds and 100 pounds.

Entities covered under ADA are expected to accommodate miniature horses after an assessment. The assessment factors include, whether the –

  1. Miniature horse is housebroken i.e. trained to urinate and defecate outside the house or a special place.
  2. Miniature horse is under the handler’s control
  3. Facility can accommodate miniature horse’s type, size and weight.
  4. Presence of the miniature horse will not compromise the safety of the facility.

At what places the Service Animals are allowed?

All the entities that are covered under ADA viz. state and local government, businesses and non-profit organization that serves the public, in general, are mandated to allow service animals in all the areas where the public is allowed to go. Even facilities with the no-pets rule are required to allow service animals as they are not pets.

Is there any responsibility given to the handler of a Service Animal by ADA?

Yes, of course! The handler of a service animal is responsible for every behavior of the animal. The service animal must be under the control of the owner. ADA requires service animals to be harnessed, leashed or tethered unless the owner’s disability limits her ability to use such devices or if it interferes in the dog’s work. In such cases, the owner must have control over the service animal through voice commands, signals or any other means.

Although the law permits service animals to be allowed at every public place, it is the responsibility of the owner to make the animal behave properly in every setting. Service animals must be trained not to urinate or defecate at the wrong places. They must be well-behaved in public places and should not disturb or bother anyone without reason. Service animals are allowed at hospitals but it is the duty of the owner to keep their service animal from barking and making noises. Restaurants too are required to allow service dogs but it is the responsibility of the owner to see their service animal do not run to other tables or create any nuisances.

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Can one inquire about someone’s Service Animal?

In general, no one should bother anyone including a service animal or her owner. If a service animal owner is seeking entry into a facility where pets are not allowed, staff of the facility can do basic inquiry if it is not obvious that it is a service animal.

ADA has specified two questions to be asked to the handler in such a situation. Staff can ask –

  1. Is the dog a service animal required due to a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

No further questions should be asked. The owner need not disclose her disability or show any documentation regarding her disability or the training of the service dog. The staff cannot even ask the dog to demonstrate the work for which it has been trained.

Does the Service Animal require specific vests or patches or any such thing for identification as Service Animal?

No. ADA does not require the service animal to carry any identification mark or wear any special vest, patch or harness. It is completely upon the owner how they want to present their service animal.

Can a Service Animal be denied entry into a public facility if there are people who fear dogs or are allergic to dogs?

No! Someone being fearful or allergic to dogs is no valid reason to deny entry to a service animal. The owner or manager of the facility needs to accommodate both people. They may be seated at far ends from each other.

guide dog and other service animals are very helpful for persons with specific disabilities

Can a Service Animal be removed from a premise?

A Service Animal can surely be removed from a premise IF there’s a legitimate reason to do so. ADA provides two possible situations in which a Service Animal can be removed from a facility.

a) If the dog is out of control and the owner does not take effective control of it.
b) If the dog is not housebroken.

The ADA regulations make it clear that the Service Animal can be removed from the premise on the above-given basis. But, this cannot be used as a base to deny service to the handler of the service animal. The handler must be allowed to get the goods or services for which she came to the facility, without her service animal.

Can the handlers be charged a fee for taking their service animal to a facility?

No, the handler of a service animal need not pay any extra cost for her service animal. This will be considered discrimination under the law. If a facility charges some fee for allowing pet animals, the fee should be waived for service animals.

However, if a facility charges everybody for damages caused by them then it can charge the person with a disability for any damages caused by her or her service animal.

Are staffs of a facility responsible for the care of service animals coming to their facility?

No. The handler of a service animal and no one else is responsible for taking care of a service animal. Staffs of any facility are not required to take care of or supervise a service animal.

Can a person have two service dogs? If yes, can they both be taken to public places?

Yes. If a person with a disability requires the help of two service dogs, she can own two. If a facility can accommodate two service dogs, it should allow both of them together. But, if allowing two service dogs can create undue trouble, one of them may be asked to be kept outside the premise.

Can a hotel guest leave her service animal in the room while she goes out?

No. A Service Animal must always be under the control of the owner.

What if a person with a disability is denied a service or her service animal is not allowed in a facility?

If a person thinks she has been discriminated against because of her service animal, she has legal options. She can file a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of justice. She also has the right to sue the entity in Federal Court charging it with discrimination under ADA.

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