Service Animals

Because many of our clients enjoy the benefit of having a service dog, we get wide-ranging questions about what it takes to qualify as a service dog and what rights are afforded to people with disabilities who use service dogs. Let’s clarify some of the misconceptions about service dogs.

A qualified service dog is any dog:

  1. “individually trained” to
  2. “do work or perform tasks
  3. for the benefit of a person with a disability.

The phrase “individually trained,” means that the dog has been trained to do a task. The dog does NOT have to have received professional training or any type of certification or registration to qualify as a service dog. But the dog must have received some training. You can train your dog yourself. Just remember, you may need to explain how you trained your dog and what you trained your dog to do.

The work or tasks that service dogs can do are wonderfully diverse. Truly, dogs are man’s best friend. For example, if a service dog has been trained to stay by your side to provide stability to a person who has difficulty walking, it can qualify as a service dog. If a service dog is trained to fetch or pick up items for a wheelchair user or someone else who has difficulty bending, then the dog qualifies. Some folks are hearing impaired. Many dogs naturally bark at persons coming to the door or when approaching the dog’s owner. But if the dog has been trained, i.e., received affirmative reinforcement to solidify this natural tendency into a duty or task, the dog qualifies as a service animal. Alerting persons with hearing impairments is a legitimate and helpful task. Some service dogs are trained to keep an impaired child from wandering away from the family or the house. Some service dogs are trained to alert owners to the onset of seizures or helping persons with psychiatric or neurological disabilities to interrupt impulsive or destructive behavior. The list is almost unlimited.

There is one big caveat to this wonderful list. Mere friendship or the providing of emotional support, well-being, or comfort is not enough to qualify the dog under the ADA as a service animal. Nor is the safety provided by a protection dog enough to qualify a dog as a service animal. These wonderful benefits can qualify the dog under certain state laws and housing laws but not under the ADA.

If you have a service dog, you are permitted to take that dog anywhere you go in public. Into stores, movies, stadiums, restaurants, hotels, and so forth. It is only in rare circumstances that service dogs can be excluded from a public place.

If you ever have any questions about your rights under the ADA or housing laws regarding service animals, do not hesitate to contact us. We have been representing persons with disabilities who use service animals for many decades.

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