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ADA Service Dog Laws (2018)

05 June, 2018
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Service dogs provide invaluable assistance to their handlers. These unique working animals undergo extensive and highly specialized training to learn how to mitigate the difficulties caused by specific disabilities. From guiding the blind to alerting diabetic patients to low insulin levels and so much more, these remarkable canines are capable of numerous tasks that help make independent living possible for their handlers.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs and their handlers are afforded numerous rights. There are also rules and regulations, however, that must be met to ensure that a dog and his owner are entitled to those rights.

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How the ADA Defines a Disability

ADA Service Dog Laws prohibit discrimination against disabled people with service animals in employment, public accommodations, state and local government activities, public transportation, commercial facilities, and telecommunication. In the context of the ADA, “disability” is used as a legal term as opposed to a medical one and has a specific definition:

Under the ADA, a person with a disability is someone who has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity. This includes individuals who are regarded as having a disability even if they do not as well as those who have a record of being impaired even if they presently are not suffering from the impairment.

What Is a Service Animal?

The ADA also has a strict definition for service animals. They are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people living with disabilities”. These tasks may include things like alerting people who are deaf, guiding people who are visually impaired, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during an anxiety attack, reminding someone to take prescription medications, or protecting a person who is experiencing a seizure.

Service dogs are working animals – not pets. They must be trained to perform a task that is directly related to the handler’s disability. The ADA does not recognize dogs who solely provide emotional support or comfort as service animals.

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Where Service Dogs Are Allowed

Businesses, nonprofit organizations, and state and local governments are typically required to allow service dogs under ADA service dog laws to accompany people with disabilities in any areas that are open to the public. They must be allowed in establishments that prepare or serve food regardless of local or state health codes prohibiting animals on the premises. ADA service dog laws will always overrule local laws.

Business owners and staff are only allowed to ask two questions regarding service dogs. They may ask if the dog is a service animal that is required due to a disability and what type of work or task the dog has been trained to do. The ADA prohibits them from asking about a person’s disability. They are also not allowed to require any type of identification or certification documents for the dog or medical documentation from the handler. They also may not ask that the dog demonstrate what it has been trained to do.

People with disabilities and their services are not to be isolated from other customers or patrons. They also may not be treated less favorably or be required to pay additional fees for their animals. Businesses that charge additional fees or deposits for pets – such as hotels – must waive these fees for service animals.

Requirements for Service Dog and Handler Teams

Discriminating against service dogs and their handlers is illegal. However, there are a few rules by which dogs and their handlers must abide. Under the ADA, all service dogs must be leashed, harnessed, or tethered. If, however, these devices interfere with the dog’s work or the handler’s disability makes it impossible to use them, the dog may be kept under control through voice, signal, or other controls.

If a service dog is not under control and the handler fails to act to gain to control, a business owner or staff member is permitted to ask that the animal be removed from the premises. A handler may also be asked to remove a service dog that is not housebroken, is behaving aggressively, or is otherwise posing a threat to human health and safety. If the dog must be removed for a legitimate reason, the establishment must permit the handler to obtain the services or goods they need without the animal’s presence.

Service dogs provide vital assistance for people with disabilities. They are afforded numerous rights under the ADA, but it is the handler’s responsibility to ensure that the dog is properly trained and behaves appropriately in public.

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