Service Animals

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Many terms are used by agencies and groups to describe animals that meet a legal definition of "service animal." Basically, a "service animal" is an animal that helps a person with a disability. These terms may include "assistance animal," "service animal," "emotional support animal," "behavioral support animal" and others.

But agencies such as the Department of Justice and others are very specific about what a service animal is and what rights are provided for people with disabilities that use a service animal. It is also important to know that state rules for service animals can be broader than the federal government. Individuals should check with their state Attorney General’s office to see what applies to them.

The following summaries provide basic information on the current definitions of “service animal” by federal agencies.

a photo of a man and his seeing eye dog

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Allowed: Dogs and Miniature Horses

Definition: Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack or performing other duties.

The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

In addition to the provisions about service dogs, the revised ADA regulations have a new, separate provision about miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. (Miniature horses generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.)

Entities covered by the ADA must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable.

Reference Citation: www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

Allowed: No species restrictions

Definition: Assistance animals perform many disability-related functions, including but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, alerting persons to impending seizures, or providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support.

The Fair Housing Act and the United States Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) implementing regulations prohibit discrimination because of disability and apply regardless of the presence of federal financial assistance. Section 504 regulations apply a similar prohibition on disability discrimination to all recipients of financial assistance from HUD.

Reasonable accommodation provisions of both laws must be considered in situations where persons with disabilities use (or seek to use) assistance animals in housing where the provider forbids residents from having pets or otherwise imposes restrictions or conditions relating to pets and other animals.

For purposes of reasonable accommodation requests, neither requires an assistance animal to be individually trained or certified. While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals.

Reference Citation: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=servanimals_ntcfheo2013-01.pdf

Allowed: Species restrictions Not Allowed: Snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders

Definition: A service animal is any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability regardless of whether it has been licensed or certified by a state or local government. Animals that assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional support qualify as service animals.

The main requirements of Part 382 regarding service animals are:

a photo of a mini horse

  • Carriers shall permit dogs and other service animals used by persons with disabilities to accompany the persons on a flight.
  • Carriers shall accept as evidence that an animal is a service animal identifiers such as identification cards, other written documentation, presence of harnesses, tags or the credible verbal assurances of a qualified individual with a disability using the animal.
  • Carriers shall permit a service animal to accompany a qualified individual with a disability in any seat, unless the animal obstructs an aisle or other area that must remain unobstructed in order to facilitate an emergency evacuation or to comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
  • Carriers shall not impose charges for providing facilities, equipment or services that are required by this part to be provided to qualified individuals with a disability.

Reference Citation: www.dot.gov/airconsumer/service-animal-guidance

Department Of Transportation (DOT)
Allowed: Species restrictions
Not Allowed: Snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders

a photo of a service dog operating an elevator

Definition: Under Department of Transportation (DOT) Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations at 49 C.F.R. Section 37.3, "service animal" is defined as "any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items."

Under the DOT ADA regulations at 49 C.F.R. Section 37.167(d), transit providers are required to permit service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities in vehicles and facilities.

A transit provider may ask if an animal is a service animal or ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform, but cannot require special ID cards for the animal or ask about the person’s disability. A service animal may not be excluded unless the animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it or the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

Reference Citation: www.dot.gov/airconsumer/service-animal-guidance