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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
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.
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.