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Legal Information on Service Dogs, BY MAY INMAN

  • Monday, August 30 2010 @ 09:46 pm UTC
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We've all heard that changes to the federal service dog law was in the works. Here 'tis. A "push" was on to make a distinction between "service" and "assistance" dogs - did not happen and the suggestion was rejected by the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) for the Amer. Disabilities Act (ADA). Most of the changes are about facility building access; but, some apply to individual questions. I sent this to myself with you as a blind copy so that if you want someone else to know your questions or practices, you can tell them, rather than me making your privacy public in an email and I didn't want to single out anyone. I tried to pick some of the most common and general answers from the wealth of information available since I often get asked service dog questions and keep my nose in the DOJ ADA site for changes & updates. I thought this might also interest many of you as there are changes as of a few weeks ago. And, many questions I get asked are folks that mistake HUD housing or air carrier access w/ public access - not the same thing. For example, one may have a support dog that psychologically calms them for a plane ride and that is professionally verifiable with their doctor if need be. In many cases that (pet) dog, although it isn't trained to perform a task, may be allowed on the plane if the carrier's conditions are met; but, not allowed in a restaurant as it is not a service dog. Therein lies much of the confusion. And we tend to forget "Service Dogs" are not and may not be pets by definition.
"A public entity may ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform."
Some of the things I have highlighted below will give you a clear definition of "service dog"  (note DOJ ADA does not use the word "assistance dog" ) and I hope, since I can't search and answer everyone's individual questions, that this will peak your curiosity enough to go to the www.ada.gov site and search for what suits your individual circumstances. At the bottom of these excerpts is a link to HUD for purely housing (not public) access questions. My only caveat is that just when you think you've found your answer there is always that good ole government subparagraph that further defines and explains and likely changes the first general reading's perception - particulary where services dogs for psychological reasons are concerned. In other words, when you think you're done, keep reading.
This info is current as of 8/3/2010 and is the DOJ ADA's "Final Rule" which becomes effective 6 months after its date of publication in the Federal Register.
A common misconception that drives me crazy is the "training certification requirements" for service dogs - NADA, ZIP, ZILCH and too many trainers say certification is required and  continually perpetuate this myth for the money or just continue making the mistake of being misinformed and not researching it themselves.  This is from the DOJ ADA website and it has been like this and is still like this and is current as of this writing. Bottom line:  are they housebroken & under handler control & trained to work a task for the disabled that they cannot do for themselves! While the Feds do not require certifications, some states do; Florida is not (yet) one of them.


"Training requirement. Certain commenters recommended the adoption of formal training requirements for service animals. The Department has rejected this approach and will not impose any type of formal training requirements or certification process, but will continue to require that service animals be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. While some groups have urged the Department to modify this position, the Department has determined that such a modification would not serve the full array of individuals with disabilities who use service animals, since individuals with disabilities may be capable of training, and some have trained, their service animal to perform tasks or do work to accommodate their disability. A training and certification requirement would increase the expense of acquiring a service animal and might limit access to service animals for individuals with limited financial resources.

Some commenters proposed specific behavior or training standards for service animals, arguing that without such standards, the public has no way to differentiate between untrained pets and service animals. Many of the suggested behavior or training standards were lengthy and detailed. The Department believes that this rule addresses service animal behavior sufficiently by including provisions that address the obligations of the service animal user and the circumstances under which a service animal may be excluded, such as the requirements that an animal be housebroken and under the control of its handler."

http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleII_2010/titleII_combined.html definitions - & a lawsuit where an attorney tried to prohibit entry of a service dog for a woman coming for a deposition - whoo - fined $52,500!!! http://www.ada.gov/lehouillier.htm


"Psych" disabilities are covered IF the dog is specifically task trained (see below); not because the dog is a good listener/pet whose presence calms someone w/ or w/out PTSD - a tearjerker wonderful story of a pet but not within the definition of ADA's "service dog". This type of relationship may work in HUD for allowance to housing & in ACAA for access on aircraft; but, not for access to the baker's & candelstick maker's & restaurants & grocery stores.

One service dog user stated that in some cases, "critical forms of assistance can´t be construed as physical tasks," noting that the manifestations of "brain-based disabilities," such as psychiatric disorders and autism, are as varied as their physical counterparts. The Department agrees with this statement but cautions that unless the animal is individually trained to do something that qualifies as work or a task, the animal is a pet or support animal and does not qualify for coverage as a service animal. A pet or support animal may be able to discern that the handler is in distress, but it is what the animal is trained to do in response to this awareness that distinguishes a service animal from an observant pet or support animal.

Here's ADA definitions & "service" vs. "pet" is dependent upon the dog's task-training - BTW: ACAA is the Air Carrier Access Act and not the ADA

I tried to highlight the pertinents in the too much info below -

http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleII_2010/reg2_2010.html Public entities that are subject to the ADA as well as other Federal disability discrimination laws must be aware of the requirements of all applicable laws and must comply with these laws and their implementing regulations. Although in many cases similar provisions of different statutes are interpreted to impose similar requirements, there are circumstances in which similar provisions are applied differently because of the nature of the covered entity or activity or because of distinctions between the statutes. For example, emotional support animals that do not qualify as service animals under the Department´s title II regulation may nevertheless qualify as permitted reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities under the FHAct and the ACAA. See, e.g., Overlook Mutual Homes, Inc. v. Spencer, 666 F. Supp. 2d 850 (S.D. Ohio 2009). Public entities that operate housing facilities must ensure that they apply the reasonable accommodation requirements of the FHAct in determining whether to allow a particular animal needed by a person with a disability into housing and may not use the ADA definition as a justification for reducing their FHAct obligations. In addition, nothing in the ADA prevents a covered entity subject to one statute from modifying its policies and providing greater access in order to assist individuals with disabilities in achieving access to entities subject to other Federal statutes. For example, a public airport is a title II facility that houses air carriers subject to the ACAA. The public airport operator is required to comply with the title II requirements, but is not covered by the ACAA. Conversely, the air carrier is required to comply with the ACAA, but is not covered by title II of the ADA. If a particular animal is a service animal for purposes of the ACAA and is thus allowed on an airplane, but is not a service animal for purposes of the ADA, nothing in the ADA prohibits an airport from allowing a ticketed passenger with a disability who is traveling with a service animal that meets the ACAA´s definition of a service animal to bring that animal into the facility even though under the ADA´s definition of service animal the animal could be lawfully excluded.

The Department´s final rule defines "service animal" as "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler´s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling 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. The crime deterrent effects of an animal´s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition."

This definition has been designed to clarify a key provision of the ADA. Many covered entities indicated that they are confused regarding their obligations under the ADA with regard to individuals with disabilities who use service animals. Individuals with disabilities who use trained guide or service dogs are concerned that if untrained or unusual animals are termed "service animals," their own right to use guide or service dogs may become unnecessarily restricted or questioned. Some individuals who are not individuals with disabilities have claimed, whether fraudulently or sincerely (albeit mistakenly), that their animals are service animals covered by the ADA, in order to gain access to courthouses, city or county administrative offices, and other title II facilities. The increasing use of wild, exotic, or unusual species, many of which are untrained, as service animals has also added to the confusion.

Finally, individuals with disabilities who have the legal right under the Fair Housing Act (FHAct) to use certain animals in their homes as a reasonable accommodation to their disabilities have assumed that their animals also qualify under the ADA. This is not necessarily the case, as discussed below.

The Department recognizes the diverse needs and preferences of individuals with disabilities protected under the ADA, and does not wish to unnecessarily impede individual choice. Service animals play an integral role in the lives of many individuals with disabilities and, with the clarification provided by the final rule, individuals with disabilities will continue to be able to use their service animals as they go about their daily activities and civic interactions. The clarification will also help to ensure that the fraudulent or mistaken use of other animals not qualified as service animals under the ADA will be deterred. A more detailed analysis of the elements of the definition and the comments responsive to the service animal provisions of the NPRM follows.

Providing minimal protection. As previously noted, the 1991 title II regulation does not contain specific language concerning service animals. The 1991 title III regulation included language stating that "minimal protection" was a task that could be performed by an individually trained service animal for the benefit of an individual with a disability. In the Department´s "ADA Business Brief on Service Animals" (2002), the Department interpreted the "minimal protection" language within the context of a seizure (i.e., alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure). The Department received many comments in response to the question of whether the "minimal protection" language should be clarified. Many commenters urged the removal of the "minimal protection" language from the service animal definition for two reasons: (1) the phrase can be interpreted to allow any dog that is trained to be aggressive to qualify as a service animal simply by pairing the animal with a person with a disability; and (2) the phrase can be interpreted to allow any untrained pet dog to qualify as a service animal, since many consider the mere presence of a dog to be a crime deterrent, and thus sufficient to meet the minimal protection standard. These commenters argued, and the Department agrees, that these interpretations were not contemplated under the original title III regulation, and, for the purposes of the final title II regulations, the meaning of "minimal protection" must be made clear.

While many commenters stated that they believe that the "minimal protection" language should be eliminated, other commenters recommended that the language be clarified, but retained. Commenters favoring clarification of the term suggested that the Department explicitly exclude the function of attack or exclude those animals that are trained solely to be aggressive or protective. Other commenters identified non-violent behavioral tasks that could be construed as minimally protective, such as interrupting self-mutilation, providing safety checks and room searches, reminding the handler to take medications, and protecting the handler from injury resulting from seizures or unconsciousness.

Several commenters noted that the existing direct threat defense, which allows the exclusion of a service animal if the animal exhibits unwarranted or unprovoked violent behavior or poses a direct threat, prevents the use of "attack dogs" as service animals. One commenter noted that the use of a service animal trained to provide "minimal protection" may impede access to care in an emergency, for example, where the first responder, usually a title II entity, is unable or reluctant to approach a person with a disability because the individual´s service animal is in a protective posture suggestive of aggression.

Many organizations and individuals stated that in the general dog training community, "protection" is code for attack or aggression training and should be removed from the definition.

Commenters stated that there appears to be a broadly held misconception that aggression-trained animals are appropriate service animals for persons with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While many individuals with PTSD may benefit by using a service animal, the work or tasks performed appropriately by such an animal would not involve unprovoked aggression but could include actively cuing the handler by nudging or pawing the handler to alert to the onset of an episode and removing the individual from the anxiety-provoking environment.

The Department recognizes that despite its best efforts to provide clarification, the "minimal protection" language appears to have been misinterpreted. While the Department maintains that protection from danger is one of the key functions that service animals perform for the benefit of persons with disabilities, the Department recognizes that an animal individually trained to provide aggressive protection, such as an attack dog, is not appropriately considered a service animal. Therefore, the Department has decided to modify the "minimal protection" language to read "non-violent protection," thereby excluding so-called "attack dogs" or dogs with traditional "protection training" as service animals. The Department believes that this modification to the service animal definition will eliminate confusion, without restricting unnecessarily the type of work or tasks that service animals may perform. The Department´s modification also clarifies that the crime-deterrent effect of a dog´s presence, by itself, does not qualify as work or tasks for purposes of the service animal definition.

Alerting to intruders. The phrase "alerting to intruders" is related to the issues of minimal protection and the work or tasks an animal may perform to meet the definition of a service animal. In the original 1991 regulatory text, this phrase was intended to identify service animals that alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of others. This language has been misinterpreted by some to apply to dogs that are trained specifically to provide aggressive protection, resulting in the assertion that such training qualifies a dog as a service animal under the ADA. The Department reiterates that title II entities are not required to admit any animal whose use poses a direct threat under § 35.139. In addition, the Department has decided to remove the word "intruders" from the service animal definition and replace it with the phrase "the presence of people or sounds." The Department believes this clarifies that so-called "attack training" or other aggressive response types of training that cause a dog to provide an aggressive response do not qualify a dog as a service animal under the ADA.

Conversely, if an individual uses a breed of dog that is perceived to be aggressive because of breed reputation, stereotype, or the history or experience the observer may have with other dogs, but the dog is under the control of the individual with a disability and does not exhibit aggressive behavior, the title II entity cannot exclude the individual or the animal from a State or local government program, service, or facility. The animal can only be removed if it engages in the behaviors mentioned in § 35.136(b) (as revised in the final rule) or if the presence of the animal constitutes a fundamental alteration to the nature of the service, program, or activity of the title II entity.

Doing "work" or "performing tasks." The NPRM proposed that the Department maintain the requirement, first articulated in the l991 title III regulation, that in order to qualify as a service animal, the animal must "perform tasks" or "do work" for the individual with a disability. The phrases "perform tasks" and "do work" describe what an animal must do for the benefit of an individual with a disability in order to qualify as a service animal.

The Department received a number of comments in response to the NPRM proposal urging the removal of the term "do work" from the definition of a service animal. These commenters argued that the Department should emphasize the performance of tasks instead. The Department disagrees. Although the common definition of work includes the performance of tasks, the definition of work is somewhat broader, encompassing activities that do not appear to involve physical action.

One service dog user stated that in some cases, "critical forms of assistance can´t be construed as physical tasks," noting that the manifestations of "brain-based disabilities," such as psychiatric disorders and autism, are as varied as their physical counterparts. The Department agrees with this statement but cautions that unless the animal is individually trained to do something that qualifies as work or a task, the animal is a pet or support animal and does not qualify for coverage as a service animal. A pet or support animal may be able to discern that the handler is in distress, but it is what the animal is trained to do in response to this awareness that distinguishes a service animal from an observant pet or support animal.

The NPRM contained an example of "doing work" that stated "a psychiatric service dog can help some individuals with dissociative identity disorder to remain grounded in time or place." 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008). Several commenters objected to the use of this example, arguing that grounding was not a "task" and therefore, the example inherently contradicted the basic premise that a service animal must perform a task in order to mitigate a disability. Other commenters stated that "grounding" should not be included as an example of "work" because it could lead to some individuals claiming that they should be able to use emotional support animals in public because the dog makes them feel calm or safe. By contrast, one commenter with experience in training service animals explained that grounding is a trained task based upon very specific behavioral indicators that can be observed and measured. These tasks are based upon input from mental health practitioners, dog trainers, and individuals with a history of working with psychiatric service dogs.

It is the Department´s view that an animal that is trained to "ground" a person with a psychiatric disorder does work or performs a task that would qualify it as a service animal as compared to an untrained emotional support animal whose presence affects a person´s disability. It is the fact that the animal is trained to respond to the individual´s needs that distinguishes an animal as a service animal. The process must have two steps: recognition and response. For example, if a service animal senses that a person is about to have a psychiatric episode and it is trained to respond for example, by nudging, barking, or removing the individual to a safe location until the episode subsides, then the animal has indeed performed a task or done work on behalf of the individual with the disability, as opposed to merely sensing an event.

One commenter suggested defining the term "task," presumably to improve the understanding of the types of services performed by an animal that would be sufficient to qualify the animal for coverage. The Department believes that the common definition of the word "task" is sufficiently clear and that it is not necessary to add to the definitions section. However, the Department has added examples of other kinds of work or tasks to help illustrate and provide clarity to the definition. After careful evaluation of this issue, the Department has concluded that the phrases "do work" and "perform tasks" have been effective during the past two decades to illustrate the varied services provided by service animals for the benefit of individuals with all types of disabilities. Thus, the Department declines to depart from its longstanding approach at this time.

Under the Department´s previous regulatory framework, some individuals and entities assumed that the requirement that service animals must be individually trained to do work or perform tasks excluded all individuals with mental disabilities from having service animals. Others assumed that any person with a psychiatric condition whose pet provided comfort to them was covered by the 1991 title II regulation. The Department reiterates that psychiatric service animals that are trained to do work or perform a task for individuals whose disability is covered by the ADA are protected by the Department´s present regulatory approach. Psychiatric service animals can be trained to perform a variety of tasks that assist individuals with disabilities to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and ameliorate their effects. Tasks performed by psychiatric service animals may include reminding the handler to take medicine, providing safety checks or room searches for persons with PTSD, interrupting self-mutilation, and removing disoriented individuals from dangerous situations.

The difference between an emotional support animal and a psychiatric service animal is the work or tasks that the animal performs. Traditionally, service dogs worked as guides for individuals who were blind or had low vision. Since the original regulation was promulgated, service animals have been trained to assist individuals with many different types of disabilities.

In the final rule, the Department has retained its position on the exclusion of emotional support animals from the definition of "service animal." The definition states that "[t]he provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship, * * * do[es] not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition." The Department notes, however, that the exclusion of emotional support animals from coverage in the final rule does not mean that individuals with psychiatric or mental disabilities cannot use service animals that meet the regulatory definition. The final rule defines service animal as follows: "[s]ervice animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability." This language simply clarifies the Department´s longstanding position.

The Department´s position is based on the fact that the title II and title III regulations govern a wider range of public settings than the housing and transportation settings for which the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and DOT regulations allow emotional support animals or comfort animals. The Department recognizes that there are situations not governed by the title II and title III regulations, particularly in the context of residential settings and transportation, where there may be a legal obligation to permit the use of animals that do not qualify as service animals under the ADA, but whose presence nonetheless provides necessary emotional support to persons with disabilities. Accordingly, other Federal agency regulations, case law, and possibly State or local laws governing those situations may provide appropriately for increased access for animals other than service animals as defined under the ADA. Public officials, housing providers, and others who make decisions relating to animals in residential and transportation settings should consult the Federal, State, and local laws that apply in those areas (e.g., the FHAct regulations of HUD and the ACAA) and not rely on the ADA as a basis for reducing those obligations.

Retain term "service animal." Some commenters asserted that the term "assistance animal" is a term of art and should replace the term "service animal." However, the majority of commenters preferred the term "service animal" because it is more specific. The Department has decided to retain the term "service animal" in the final rule. While some agencies, like HUD, use the term "assistance animal," "assistive animal," or "support animal," these terms are used to denote a broader category of animals than is covered by the ADA. The Department has decided that changing the term used in the final rule would create confusion, particularly in view of the broader parameters for coverage under the FHAct, cf., preamble to HUD´s Final Rule for Pet Ownership for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities, 73 FR 63834-38 (Oct. 27, 2008); HUD Handbook No. 4350.3 Rev-1, Chapter 2, Occupancy Requirements of Subsidized Multifamily Housing Programs (June 2007), available at www.hud.gov/offices/adm/hudclips/handbooks/hsgh/4350.3 (last visited June 24, 2010). Moreover, as discussed above, the Department´s definition of "service animal" in the title II final rule does not affect the rights of individuals with disabilities who use assistance animals in their homes under the FHAct or who use "emotional support animals" that are covered under the ACAA and its implementing regulations. See 14 CFR 382.7 et seq.; see also Department of Transportation, Guidance Concerning Service Animals in Air Transportation, 68 FR 24874, 24877 (May 9, 2003) (discussing accommodation of service animals and emotional support animals on aircraft).

U.S. Department of Justice's toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301