ALL information provided by Eugene Black, a non-lawyer legal researcher, this guide is for instructional and educational purposes ONLY. ALL content within should NOT be construed or considered to be legal advice. You should always consult an attorney to determine your legal rights and your animal's legal protections.
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This guide will provide legal guidance on what the law determines is an actual “service animal” which is permitted to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go, as distinguished from the beloved household animal. The guide will also provide information on the Department of Justice's service animal provisions and new regulations which became effective March 15, 2011. The Department of Justice has published the revised final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for title II (State and local government services) and title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) on September 15, 2010, in the Federal Register. This guide will focus only on dogs individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability, recognized as "service animals" under titles II and III of the ADA, rather than "emotional support" animals. However, other species have been legally accommodated recently such as mini horses.
Service animals under the DOJ and ADA are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These works, or tasks can include: guiding the blind, alerting the deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack and many other duties. It is important to remember that service animals are possessed and prescribed for working and performing such tasks, and are not considered or treated as pets, in public or at home. The individual duties of the dog - the work or task a dog has been trained to provide - must be directly and personally related to the person’s disability in order to be accommodated under the ADA and to have your rights enforced under the DOJ. Again, because dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or "emotional support," - dogs who are not trained for a task or work directly related to the person's substantially limiting disability - do not qualify as service animals under the ADA and therefore this article will not focus on these cuddly creatures.
This definition by the ADA does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.
Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.
Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as; patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms in a hospital, but not from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.
In addition to the provisions about service dogs, the Department’s revised ADA regulations have a new, separate provision about miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. (Miniature horses generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.) Entities covered by the ADA must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. The regulations set out four assessment factors to assist entities in determining whether miniature horses can be accommodated in their facility. The assessment factors are (1) whether the miniature horse is housebroken; (2) whether the miniature horse is under the owner’s control; (3) whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight; and (4) whether the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility.