For the past two days, we have been really focusing on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the rights of people who use service dogs. Kristin Hartness, the executive director of Canines for Disabled Kids, has been visiting us and sharing her expertise to help us learn more effective ways to work with schools, children with service dogs, and their families.
During our discussions with Kristin, one point that kept cropping up is the need to clearly differentiate a service dog from an emotional support dog. One can accompany their human partner anywhere the public is allowed to go. The other cannot. In this blog post, we’ll talk about what a service dog is.
So what is a service animal?
There has been a lot of media about fake service dogs and businesses denying access to people with service dogs. Let’s take a look at what the ADA says about service animals.
According to the ADA’s 2010 revised requirements, service animals are “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” (Miniature horses are also covered under the ADA, although they need to meet slightly different requirements than service dogs do.)
The tasks that the dog performs must be directly related to the person’s disability. For example, a service dog could provide deep pressure to calm someone with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or retrieve items for someone in a wheelchair or with mobility issues. Both of these examples are tasks that are directly related to a person’s disability.
However, retrieving items for someone with full mobility would not be considered a task under the ADA because it doesn’t directly relate to that person’s disability.
Note that the definition of service animals just says “dogs.” It doesn’t specify breed. Although we use Labrador retrievers and some golden retrievers in our program, other breeds can certainly be trained to be service dogs.
What other requirements are there?
Service dogs must always be under the control of their partner. Typically, service dogs are connected to their partner with a leash, although some dogs may be tethered to their partner. On the rare occasions when the dog must work off leash, the dog must still be controlled through voice or hand signals.
Where can a service dog go?
A person with a service dog has public access, which means the dog can accompany that person anywhere where the public is normally allowed to go. So can they go into restaurants, even though health codes exclude animals from the premises? Absolutely. Can service dogs go into grocery stores? Yes, they can. Movie theaters? Of course. An examination room at the hospital? Definitely.
The important thing, though, is that when service dogs are in these public places, they are working. So if they accompany their partner to a beach that normally doesn’t allow dogs, they must be working, just as if they were accompanying their partner to the bank or grocery store.
There are a few places where service dogs are not allowed to go without an invitation. For example, service dogs could be excluded from hospital operating rooms, churches, and some government buildings. Now, some of our service dogs in training do accompany their puppy raisers to church, but the raisers needed to get permission from that church first.
Can businesses ask questions about a service dog?
Not all public places understand the ADA as it pertains to service dogs, and people with service dogs are often questioned when they enter.
There are only two questions that staff at businesses or other establishments can ask:
Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
What work or task was the dog trained to do?
They can’t ask questions about the person’s disability, nor can they ask for a demonstration of the task. They also can’t require someone to produce documentation to certify that the dog is a service animal.
Can a service dog be asked to leave?
A person with a service dog must be allowed access, but the person can be asked to remove their service dog if the dog is out of control and the person doesn’t do anything to control their dog and/or if the dog is not housebroken. For example, if a person is in a restaurant with their service dog and the dog continuously barks or growls, the person can be asked to remove their dog. Of course, the person must be allowed back in without their service dog.
Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons to exclude a person with a service dog. In a restaurant, for example, a service dog team cannot be seated way in the back, far away from the other diners, because one of the patrons has a fear of dogs or is allergic.
Can businesses charge fees for service dogs?
No, a person with a service dog cannot be charged an extra fee just because they use a service dog. If a fee, such as an admission fee for a zoo, is required, the person with a service dog must be charged the same amount as other patrons without service animals.
Since service dogs are not pets, businesses such as hotels and taxi services also cannot charge any pet fees or deny service because the dog will shed. Basically, the person cannot be charged extra fees because their service dog exists.
A person with a service dog may choose to carry a lint roller or bring a blanket to cover the bed (if the dog sleeps in bed with them) or the seat of a taxi or rental car. But they are not required to do this.
However, if the service dog causes any damage, the person can be charged for it. The dog is the person’s responsibility.
Who is responsible for a service dog?
Like we just said, a service dog is the responsibility of their human partner. The staff at a business are not required to provide any sort of care for a service dog. Even if staff offer to bring your dog a bowl of water, they’re not required to and it may be best for the person to take care of getting their own dog’s water. And of course, no one but the service dog’s human partner should feed the dog.
Where can you find the service dog laws?
We highly recommend reading the Department of Justice’s document about the ADA’s revised requirements for service animals. If you have a service dog, you may want to even print it and carry it with you. Although you’re not required to do this by law, it can make things much easier if someone questions your right to enter a business with your service dog.