THE SERIOUS AND IMPORTANT JOB OF A SERVICE ANIMAL
We’ve surely all heard that saying, “When pigs fly.” It’s a humorous statement referring to something so absurd that it will never happen. Well, saddle up, because here is the skinny on the types of animals that may qualify as service animals, which can fly, and why you should care. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires state and local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations to make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities. Any person with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability is entitled to the protection under the ADA. Covered entities must allow service animals to accompany disabled persons in any area the public is able to go.
IS MY DOG A SERVICE ANIMAL?
Rover is probably not a service animal. Service animals perform disabilityrelated functions. The Justice Department specifically defines a service animal as an animal engaged in “recognition and response.” This includes helping the visually impaired navigate their surroundings, alerting deaf persons to sounds, assisting mobility-challenged individuals with opening and closing doors, retrieving objects or assisting in a disability-related emergency. It also would include reminding a person with a mental disability to take his medication. Service animals are not pets! They are working animals essential to a disabled person’s well-being. As of 2011, only dogs trained to do work or tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability are recognized as service animals under ADA. There is an additional, newer provision, however, permitting specifically trained miniature horses, between 24-34 inches in height and 70-100 pounds, where reasonable.
IS MY DOG AN EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL?
Rover is probably not an emotional support animal. ESAs and psychiatric service animals differ from service animals in a key way… training. While a service animal is specifically trained to perform tasks for a disabled individual, ESAs and PSAs do not need any specific training. Their presence reduces symptoms associated with a diagnosed psychological or emotional disability.
WHAT ARE THE RIGHTS OF SERVICE ANIMALS?
Under ADA, if a dog (or miniature horse) is trained to perform work or tasks directly related to an individual’s disability, they are protected. A covered entity may only ask two questions: (1) Is the service animal required because of a disability? and (2) What work or tasks has the animal been trained to perform? In addition, a covered entity is not permitted to ask for proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a service animal. The Fair Housing Act allows provisions for service animals for housing for any person with a physical or mental impairment. Even if a lease forbids or restricts pets, landlords are required to make what is called a “reasonable accommodation” to allow pets who serve as assistance animals, which includes animals who provide emotional support. Under the FHA, ESAs are a different legal classification than pets and, therefore, pet restrictions and fees must be waived for them. The Air Carrier Access Act was passed by congress to provide air travel accessibility to all people with disabilities. Carriers must permit a service animal to accompany a passenger with a disability to any seat in which the passenger sits. These regulations were designed to minimize the difficulties travellers with disabilities encounter in our country’s air travel system while allowing the safe carriage of all passengers. Air carriers are never required to accommodate certain exotic animals (e.g., snakes, other reptiles, spiders or rodents) as service animals in the cabin; however, they may be required to allow miniature horses, pigs or monkeys if they pose no threat to passenger health or safety, are not too large or heavy, and pose no significant disruption of cabin service. WHY SHOULD I CARE? We have all seen bizarre stories circulating the web of Pinky the Chihuahua stealing the paparazzi spotlight, Ducky the goat in a movie theater, and Ruffles the turkey boarding a Delta flight. There are news accounts of emotional support animals spreading their dander, forcing emergency landings on planes and relieving themselves in public. Besides causing discomfort in public areas, such abuse makes it more difficult for those who are disabled to receive the support they need. In several cases, misbehaving untrained ESAs have distracted service animals who are working. Because service animals keep their owners safe, these distractions could be devastating. Additionally, ignoring these laws increases judgment and conflict and forces protected individuals into confrontations concerning their companion’s access rights. As stories become news, the wariness, suspicion and tarnished views that result from abusing emotional support animal regulations can result in exponential damage to the service animal community as a whole. PRETENDING YOUR PET IS A SERVICE ANIMAL IS A CRIME! A service animal can be the difference between life and death for someone who is deaf or blind. Service dogs are as essential to a disabled person’s well-being as is a wheelchair or walker. Pretending your pet is a service animal is against the law. So, sometimes pigs really can fly, but pets should stay home! If you ever feel the urge to bring Rover to Target, please remember that you are breaking the law and potentially harming others. Stick with the many places Rover can go – the park, Lowe’s, Petco, etc.
By Susan L. Shackelford, Ph.D.