Posts Tagged ‘service dog laws’

Individuals with disabilities whether they are physical or mental often feel isolated because it is harder for them to function in public; this is where service dogs come in.  Service dogs provide individuals with disabilities the ability to have more freedom and go out in public without having to worry about what to do if they need help.  For example an individual who is blind may find it difficult to walk down the street as there may be unexpected obstacles or they may fear to cross the street, with the aid of a service dog an individual who is blind can navigate any street because their service dog becomes their vision and can help them around obstacles and help them cross streets safely.  Individuals suffering from seizures may be afraid to go out into public for fear of having a seizure and being alone and injuring themselves or not getting the help they need, with the aid of a service dog that can alert the individual to a seizure they can prepare themselves to avoid injury and the service dog can keep them safe during the seizure and get help after the seizure.  Service dogs are a great way for individuals with disabilities to be able to go out into public and lead normal lives instead of being isolated at home.  It is important to understand what service dogs are and the rights that individuals with disabilities have regarding the use of service dogs.

What is a Service Dog

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a service dog is defined as a dog that is specially trained to help individuals with disabilities.

Types of Service Dogs

Service dogs help individuals with disabilities perform tasks they would not be able to on their own.  Service dogs help individuals with different disabilities including physical, neurological, and mental health.  It is important to not make assumptions, just because a person’s disability is not visible like people who suffer from seizures it does not mean that they are not disabled.  The same can be said about service dogs as there are several breeds of service dogs that people without disabilities may not be aware of.  Below is a list of the different types of service dogs:

 

Guide Dogs- Guide dogs help individuals who are visually impaired or blind and they will help guide them around obstacles and with tasks like crossing streets. Hearing Dogs- Hearing dogs help individuals with varying degrees of hearing impairments and alert them to sounds like doorbells, alarms, smoke alarm, telephone, or oven buzzer. Mobility Assistance Dogs- Mobility assistance dogs help individuals who have mobility issues like brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, and arthritis by bringing them objects and pressing buttons like those in an elevator.  Some mobility dogs are even strong enough to pull a wheelchair up a ramp. Diabetic Alert Dogs- Diabetic alert dogs help the individual by alerting them when they smell changes in the individual’s blood sugar.  When an individual’s blood sugar is either hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic there are scent changes that humans are not capable of smelling but dogs with their acute sense of smell can pick up on them and alert the individual. Seizure Alert Dogs- Seizure alert dogs help an individual who is prone to seizures by alerting them when they sense changes in it the individual’s behavior before a seizure. Seizure Response Dogs-Seizure response dogs help the individual who is prone to seizure by barking or pressing an alarm to get aid for the individual and they also have the ability to keep the individual safe during the seizure and then help them after the seizure.  These dogs are not capable of sensing a seizure, but they can assist during and after a seizure. Psychiatric Service Dogs- Psychiatric service dogs help individuals who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression by helping the individual feel safer and calmer in public helping them feel less overwhelmed when out in public. Autism Support Dogs- Autism support dogs help children who are on the autism spectrum by reducing the isolation these kids feel due to their difficulty in social settings and interacting with others. FASD Service Dogs- Fetal Alcohol Service Dogs (FASD) help children who were exposed to alcohol during fetal development as they often have physical, mental, behavioral, and learning problems.

While it is common to see German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers as service dogs, it is important to note that the breeds of service dogs are just as varied as the disabilities of the individual who require their aid.  It is not uncommon for poodles, Pomeranians, golden retrievers, poodles, cocker spaniels, Chihuahuas, etc. to also be service dogs.  It depends on the disability they are required for.  While larger breeds like shepherds and retrievers may be required for physical or vision disabilities, the smaller breeds like poodles and Chihuahuas make excellent hearing dogs.  It is important to not make assumptions when it comes to service dogs as you don’t want to offend the disabled individual who requires their service.

Service Dog Laws

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Federal Government has established guidelines regarding the definition of a service dog and what rights individuals have regarding their service dogs.  In compliance with ADA, the Federal Government states that “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 allowed to go (ADA Requirements)”.  The law further states that business owners may only ask individuals with service dogs two questions regarding their service animal and they include asking if the service dog is required due to a disability and what the service dog is trained to do.  Owners and employees may not ask about the individual disability and they may not request any type of identification or certification regarding the service dog or medical documentation from the disabled individual.  While covered by the Federal Government, many states have their own laws and guidelines regarding service dogs.

Texas Service Dog Laws

The state of Texas defines a service dog as a dog that has been specially trained to assist a disabled individual and is used by the disabled individual.  Texas defines a disability as:

Visual impairment Speech impairment Hearing impairment Mental disability Physical disability Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Developmental or intellectual disability

Under Texas law, dogs that are considered to be emotional support dogs are not considered service dogs as they are not specially trained and therefore are not covered by the same rights as service dogs.

Texas law also states that individuals with disabilities have the right to bring their service animals on public transportation, and they are not required to pay an extra fare for the service dog and the individual and their service dog may not be separated.  Texas law states that individuals with disabilities have the right to bring their service animals into all public accommodations.  Examples of public accommodations include the following:

Restaurants Hotels Public transportation terminals Auditoriums and convention centers Theaters and sports stadiums Schools Zoos and parks Gyms and bowling alleys Libraries and museums Hospitals

Housing

An individual with a disability that requires the aid of a service dog may not be denied housing even if the property has a no animals allowed policy.  If a property refuses to rent or lease housing to an individual because they require a service dog they are in violation of the law.

Service Animal User’s Responsibilities

While disabled individuals who require a service dog are protected under the law, they have responsibilities that they have to adhere to as well.  When using a service dog in public they must always be under control with either a harness or a leash and if the individual refuses to do so they can be removed.  Individuals who have service dogs are also responsible for any damages caused by their service animal.

Penalties for Violating Service Animal Laws

Disabled individuals who require the aid of a service dog are protected under the law and if they are denied the right to public access then the person, business, or organization will be guilty of a misdemeanor that is punishable by a fine of up to $300 and 30 hours of community service.  Because the disabled individual’s rights have been violated they also have the right to go to court and sue for damages.

Conclusion

The use of service dogs provides disabled individuals the opportunity to go out into public and lead normal lives.  Service dogs help to eliminate the isolation that disabled individual may feel by aiding them with everyday tasks that able-bodied individuals take for granted.  Disabled individuals who require service dogs are protected under the law and may not be denied access to public areas or public transportation and if they are there are punishable by monetary fines and community service.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Service Animal is defined as a dog that is specifically trained to perform a task (or tasks) for an individual with a disability.

With this definition in mind, a Service Dog is not an ordinary pet or even one that is being used for emotional support (ESA).

In this post, we will take a more in-depth look at this topic to uncover what makes a Service Dog legal.

A Service Dog is NOT an Emotional Support Animal

There may be some confusion as to the difference between a Service Dog and an Emotional Support Animal. As we mentioned earlier, the Service Dog must be specifically trained to perform a task that the person cannot do for themselves.

This includes (but is not limited to);

Guiding the blind Pulling a wheelchair Opening doors Alerting to an oncoming medical condition Reminding the individual to take medications Alerting those with hearing impairments

An Emotional Support Animal is defined as any animal that is being used by an individual with a mental or emotional disability for comfort. This can include helping people with social anxieties, PTSD, phobias, anxiety, and depression. Unlike a Service Dog, an ESA is not specifically trained for providing a task(s) for their owner.

Unlike an Emotional Support Animal, Service Dogs are allowed into all areas where the general public has a right to go. This includes restaurants, hotels, theaters, public transportation, libraries, retail outlets, malls, etc.

Difference between service dog, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs

How Do I Qualify for a Service Dog?

Before you can have a legitimate Service Dog, you must have a disability that requires the assistance of a canine companion. Some disabilities are obvious and therefore will need no explanation for the dog. Other conditions may not be so visible, but that doesn’t mean you are not entitled to having one.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does have a clear definition as to what is considered disabled. If you are unsure, ask your doctor if you may qualify for a Service Dog.

To register your dog and get your service dog ID card, please complete the registration below.

What Makes a Service Dog Legal?

Training of the Service Dog to perform a specific task is key to it being legitimate. According to the ADA, the Service Dog does not need to be professionally trained, meaning the disabled individual may go through this process themselves.

However, be aware that the handler of the dog is 100% responsible for that canine in all situations. The Service Dog must be under your control at all times. It cannot exhibit any unruly behavior such as jumping, begging, wandering off, barking, lunging at people, etc.

The ADA also does not consider a Service Dog in training a full-fledged assistance animal, so it is not yet allowed into those public areas that are normally off limits to dogs.

The Service Dog is also not legally required to wear any identification of its status; however, having a specifically marked vest, harness or badge will make it easier when you are dealing with the general public.

What Questions Can Be Asked of Me?

In situations where your disability may not be obvious, there are only two questions that may be asked of you;

Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Note: The staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of your disability.

You and Your Service Dog

If you have a disability and need the help of a Service Dog, know your rights. You are allowed to have this working animal with you in all areas open to the general public. However, your dog must be well behaved and in your control at all times. If your disability is not openly visible, staff members are only legally able to ask you two questions in regards to your Service Dog.

Don’t suffer another minute when a Service Dog may be the answer to getting you back on the road to living a more productive, normal life.

Service dog owners are afforded special rights and protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is essential for every service dog handler to understand what their legal rights are and how to exercise them. It is also important for staff members at establishments such as restaurants, stores, hotels, schools and other public locations to understand how they can properly verify a service dog without running afoul of ADA rules.  

In this article we will explain what rights service dog handlers have under the ADA, how an animal companion qualifies as a service dog and what staff members at public establishments are permitted and not permitted to ask a service dog owner. We will also answer some frequently asked questions regarding service dog rules. 

What is a service animal? How does the ADA define a disability? What disabilities qualify for a service dog under the ADA?  Where are service dogs allowed? What questions are you allowed to ask a service dog owner? Do I need a professional trainer to train my service dog? Can I train my service dog myself? Which breeds can be service dogs? Are emotional support animals the same thing as service animals? When can a business ask a service dog and its handler to leave an establishment?  Do you need a vest, ID card or special harness for a service dog? How do you certify or register a service dog? My city requires dogs be registered and licensed, are service dogs exempt?  My city requires that dogs be vaccinated, is that applicable to service dogs?  Can a service dog be off leash? Can a restaurant or hotel force my service dog to remain in a certain area? Can a hotel charge me for staying with a service dog? Are service dogs allowed in self service restaurants, such as buffets? Are restaurants required to allow service dogs to be seated on chairs or be fed at the table? 1. What is a service animal?

The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for someone living with a disability. These tasks may include things like alerting people who are deaf, guiding people who are visually impaired, calming a person during an anxiety attack, reminding someone with depression to take prescription medications or protecting a person who is experiencing a seizure. 

Service dogs are remarkable canines capable of a wide range of tasks that help make independent living possible for their handlers. These unique working animals undergo specialized training to learn tasks that mitigate the difficulties caused by specific disabilities. Service dogs are working animals – not pets. They must be trained to perform a task that is directly related to the handler’s disability. 

2. How does the ADA define 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 their disability is not physically visible. A person is also protected by The ADA if they have a history of a a disability.

3. What disabilities qualify for a service dog under the ADA? 

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. A disabled person can also be a person who has a history or record of such an impairment or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. 

The ADA does not specifically list out every type of impairment that qualifies as a disability. The disability can be a physical disability such as blindness or impaired mobility, or it can be an invisible disability in the form of a mental condition such as PTSD or severe depression or anxiety. 

4. Where are service dogs allowed?

Businesses, nonprofit organizations, and state and local governments that serve the public are generally required to allow service dogs to accompany people with disabilities in any areas that are open to the public. This would include places such as restaurants, grocery stores, retail stores, hotels, office buildings, school campuses, parks and other establishments open to the public. 

5. What questions are you allowed to ask a service dog owner?

The staff or employees at a public establishment such as a restaurant, bar, store, hotel, office building or school may only as two limited questions if it is not obvious what service the dog provides:

Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

The staff member cannot require a doctor’s note, inquire about the handler’s disability, ask for an identification card or training certificate, and/or demand medical documents.

In addition, staff members are not permitted to ask the handler to have their service dog demonstrate its ability to perform work for the owner. It is important to note as well that the two questions above are only allowed if the disability is not apparent. So for example if the service dog is being used as guide dog for a blind person, it would not be appropriate to interrogate them about their service dog. 

6. Do I need a professional trainer to train my service dog? Can I train my service dog myself?

ADA service dog rules do not require that service dog owners use a professional trainer. In order to make your dog a service dog, you do not need to complete any specific training program. Service dog handlers are allowed to train their dog themselves without the help of a professional trainer or training program. 

Service dog owners should note that under ADA rules, service dogs in training are not considered to be service animals. That means that before a service dog owner can enjoy all of the rights afforded to service dog owners under the ADA, their dog must be fully trained to perform the task that assists with the handler’s disability. Some State and local laws may however give rights to dogs that are still in the training stages. 

7. Which breeds can be service dogs?

Under ADA rules for service dogs, a service dog can be any type of dog breed. A public establishment or landlord is not allowed to prohibit entry for a service dog solely because it is a certain breed. The service dog may be asked to leave the premises if it is not under the control of the handler or acts in a way that threatens the health and safety of others. Staff members and landlords at an establishment or apartment complex cannot however ask a service dog to leave simply because they are afraid of the dog solely due to preconceived notions about the dog’s breed. 

ADA rules also take precedent over local rules regarding breed restrictions. For example, if your city bans a certain breed of dog, that ban cannot be categorically applied to service animals. 

8. Are emotional support animals the same thing as service animals?

No, emotional support animals, or ESAs, are not the same thing as service animals. The ADA does not recognize dogs who solely provide emotional support or comfort as service animals. Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals do not require any special training

Emotional support animals are intended to provide support for mental and emotional disabilities through companionship. ESAs have more limited access rights than service dogs. Emotional support animals are allowed in residences and on flights, but do not have a right to be in places such as stores, hotels or restaurants that prohibit pets the same way service dogs do.

That does not mean a service dog cannot assist with a psychiatric condition. For example, a service dog can be used to remind a depressed individual to take their medication. Or for someone with anxiety, a service dog can be trained to sense an impending anxiety attack and take actions to prevent the attack or minimize its impact. However, if a person with anxiety is just using the dog’s companionship as a source of comfort for their condition, the animal would not qualify as a service dog. 

9. When can a business ask a service dog and its handler to leave an establishment? 

A disabled person with a service dog can only be asked to remove their animal from the premises in limited circumstances. It is appropriate for staff members to ask a handler to remove their service dog if the dog is out of control or the dog is not housebroken. A service dog handler may also be asked to leave if their service dog’s actions are threatening the health and safety of other people. 

It is not appropriate to ask for a service dog to leave due to allergies or a fear of dogs. Under ADA guidance, if someone is allergic to a dog and needs to share space with a disabled person and their service dog, both people should be accommodated by assigning them where possible to different locations within the room or facility. 

10. Do you need a vest, ID card or special harness for a service dog?

Under ADA service dog rules, items such as vests, ID cards or special harnesses are not required for service dogs. However, many service dog owners utilize these accessories as helpful tools that signal to the public that their dog is a service dog. By using a service dog ID card, vest or harness, a service dog handler can clearly indicate to members of the public that their dog is on duty and should not be disturbed. These accessories help to set proper boundaries so handlers can avoid invasive inquiries and interactions. 

11. How do you certify or register a service dog?

Service animals do not need to be certified or registered to qualify as service animals. Employees and staff are not permitted to require documentation from a handler that the animal is certified, trained or licensed as a service animal as a condition for entry.

Some service dog owners will certify or register their dogs through an organization to help notify others that their animal is a service dog. However, these documents are optional and do not by themselves convey legal rights under the ADA.  

12. My city requires dogs be registered and licensed, are service dogs exempt? 

No, service dogs are not exempt from local registration and licensing requirements that apply to all dogs. This is different from organizations that register and license dogs as service animals. As discussed earlier, these organizations do not confer any official status on service dogs and their services are optional. If your city however requires all dogs to be licensed and registered, your service dog must also comply. 

13. My city requires that dogs be vaccinated, is that applicable to service dogs? 

Service dogs are not exempt from local rules regarding animal control and health. If your city requires vaccinations for all dogs, then your service dog must also comply. 

14. Can a service dog be off leash?

Under ADA rules, a service dog must always be under the control of its owner. Service dogs must be tethered, harnessed or leashed unless the owner’s disability prevents them from using these items or these items interfere with the dog’s ability to safety and effectively perform its tasks. In situations where a tether, harness or leash is not suitable, the handler must maintain control of their animal through voice, signal or other means of control. An establishment can ask a handler to remove their service dog from the premises if the handler does not have control of their animal. 

15. Can a restaurant or hotel force my service dog to remain in a certain area?

No, under ADA Rules for service dogs, handlers with service dogs cannot be isolated from other customers or treated less favorably than other customers. The establishment cannot have a special area for service dogs and limit the handler’s activities to that one area. For example, a hotel cannot limit guests with service dogs to designated “pet friendly” rooms.

16. Can a hotel charge me for staying with a service dog?

No, a business can never charge a deposit or fee in connection with service dogs. If the hotel charges a fee for pets, it must waive that fee for a guest who is staying with a service dog. Hotels are also not allowed to charge service dog owners cleaning fees to clean up hair or dander shed by the dog. However, if the hotel or other business usually charges guests for damages, a handler can be held responsible for paying for any damage caused by their service dog.  

17. Are service dogs allowed in self service restaurants, such as buffets?

Yes, service dogs must be allowed to accompany their owners through self-service food areas such as salad bars and buffets. Service animals are also allowed in cafeterias such as those found in the workplace or on school campuses.  

18. Are restaurants required to allow service dogs to be seated on chairs or be fed at the table?

No, seating at a restaurant and the food served at the establishment are for patrons only. A service dog owner is allowed to have their animal companion next to them, but they cannot expect the restaurant to allow the dog to be seated or fed at the table.