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Have you seen someone on the street with a dog and wondered, “Is that a service animal?” You’re not alone. It’s a question that comes up often. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has strict guidelines about what constitutes a service animal.
This post will explain what service animals are and aren’t and the legal protections afforded to those with them. Suppose you’re still unsure whether or not an animal qualifies as a service animal.
In that case, you can always ask the owner if the animal is a service animal required because of a disability.
So, What Exactly is a Service Dog?
The ADA defines a service animal as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”
They are not just for physical disabilities; service animals can also be trained to perform tasks for those with mental disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as CertaPet explains.
The work or tasks must be directly related to the individual’s disability. For example, service animals can be trained to assist people who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks.
- Alert people who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds
- Provide non-violent protection or rescue work
- Pull a wheelchair
- Assist an individual during a seizure
- alert people to the presence of allergens
- Retrieve items like medicine or the telephone
- Provide physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities
- Help persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.
Unlike emotional support dogs, service animals are individually trained to perform specific tasks for their disabled handlers.
On the other hand, emotional support animals (ESAs) provide therapeutic companionship and do not require special training beyond obedience. Service animals are working animals, not pets. They are not allowed to be alone in public places and must have a job.
What Legal Protections Do Service Dog Owners Have?
The ADA provides protections for individuals with disabilities who use service animals. You have several rights that protect you and your animal if you have a service animal. Below, we look at some of the critical provisions of the ADA that apply to service animals.
Access to Public Areas
The ADA requires that individuals with disabilities who use service animals have the same access to public places as everyone else. This means that you are generally allowed to bring your service animal into any business or public space open to the general public.
However, there are some exceptions. For example, businesses that sell or prepare food are not required to allow service animals into areas where food is prepared or served.
Other exceptions include:
- Zoos, aquariums, and other animal exhibits
- Places of worship
- Areas where the presence of a service animal would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, or activities provided
If you are unsure whether your service animal is allowed in a particular place, you can always ask the business owner or manager.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability. This means that people with disabilities who use service animals are entitled to live in places where pets are generally not allowed.
To qualify for this protection, individuals must have a disability, and their service animal must perform work or tasks that are directly related to the disability.
For example, a person with a mobility disability who uses a service animal would be protected under the FHA if he or she were denied housing because of a no-pets policy.
The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in air travel. This means people with disabilities who use service animals are entitled to fly with their animals without paying a pet fee.
However, the animal must be trained to behave appropriately in a public setting, and the airline may have other requirements, such as being leashed and vaccinated.
The ADA prohibits discrimination in employment based on disability. This means that people with disabilities who use service animals are entitled to keep their animals at work. However, as with other public accommodations, there are some exceptions. For example, service animals are not allowed in certain workplace areas, such as where food is prepared or served.
To qualify for this protection, individuals must have a disability, and their service animal must perform work or tasks that are directly related to the disability. For example, a person with a mental health disability who uses a service animal would be protected under the ADA if he or she were denied a job because of a no-pets policy.
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