Service Dogs

Posted by Annette 06/07/2018 0 Comment(s)

There is a lot of confusion about service animals, emotional support animals and, quite frankly, those who just want to bring their lovable little fur ball along everywhere they go.  We would like to dive into this subject because it is so important to know the difference and fully understand what makes each of these dogs what they are.  Service dogs are not pets.  They are indispensable tools to their handlers, providing independence, mobility and the freedom to live life to its fullest when one has a disability.  Are you ready?  Here we go.



It all starts with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which was signed into law July 26, 1990.  This act addresses many issues dealing with equal treatment and opportunity for disabled individuals in public areas and private businesses, and addresses the use of service animals.  Let’s break it down. 

Service Dogs Defined

Service animals are defined by the ADA as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals.”  That means specifically-trained dogs and sometimes miniature horses; but not peacocks, snakes or pigs.  If your Chihuahua is trained to roll over or speak, that is not a service dog.  That is a family pet according to the ADA.  Are you with us so far?


This is real work

Tasks or work done by the service dog must pertain directly to the person’s disability.  Some examples would be:

  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Leading a blind or visually-impaired individual
  • Picking up items from the floor
  • Turning on and off lights
  • Alerting individuals to the presence of allergens
  • Assisting individuals during a seizure or warning of a coming seizure
  • Providing assistance to the hearing-impaired by notifying the individual to sounds or people
  • Retrieving medications or the telephone
  • Providing non-violent protection or rescue tasks
  • Providing physical support for those with balance or mobility issues
  • Helping those with psychiatric or neurologic conditions by alerting them to and/or preventing impulsive or destructive behavior

To be clear, the ADA states, “… the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort or companionship are not considered work or tasks under the definition of a service animal.”

He’s not a dog.  He’s my service animal.

Now that we have a firm grasp on what constitutes a service animal, where can they go?  We see signs all the time that state “No Dogs Allowed” but that only applies to pets and comfort or emotional support animals.  Service animals are protected by the ADA and not subject to these same rules.  Any public or private business must allow service dogs as long as they are not a danger to others or the environment precludes it.  In the former example, if a handler does not have full control of the dog, it is off-leash, jumping on people or not housebroken, then the business may ask the handler to remove the dog.  In the latter example, think of a dog in the surgical suite.  If you think about it, why scrub to the elbows, wear a mask and gown if there is dog fur in an operating room?  That makes sense to us.


Is that really a service dog?

This is a tough question business owners may want to ask.  If you are running a grocery store or restaurant, you may have concerns about the cleanliness of having a dog in your store.  What will your other patrons think?  As a business owner, you may ask only two questions of the dog’s handler to determine if it is a service dog:

  • Is this animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has this animal been trained to perform?


Additionally, you may only ask these questions if the disability is not readily apparent, such as a dog trained to alert to seizures.


That’s it.  You may not ask about the individual’s disability, the dog’s certification, training or anything else. 


Now, all that said, the ADA covers public and private entities.  Housing and airline travel are their own bags of kibble.  We’ll cover that those topics next time as we move into the Comfort Animal/Emotional Support Animal arena.  If you want to get a little preview, check out the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.  Please chime in with your thoughts on this topic.  It’s kind of a hot potato and we weren’t sure we wanted to throw it out there; but we want to hear from you!  Let us know how you feel about these designations, laws and how it is affecting your community.


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