Service Animals Defined only as Dogs, Confusion

| Monday, February 14th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

Here is a great example of how the government regulations do not take into account the needs of those whom they are trying to protect.

As you may or may not know, Title III of the ADA effects places of public accommodation, basically businesses. For your average small business owner, this is too much information — no one running a small businesses has time to shift through this level of legal-ese. And yet they are effected because these regulations are for protecting the rights of your customers.

Basically the revised Title III states defines service animals as dogs. This ignores the fact that service animals do different things for people with disabilities — not just for the blind. For instance, with epileptics, service animals help their owners in time of seizure. They are trained for specific tasks. Here is a great link about this topic: Service Animals RE: Epilepsy. There has also been plenty of debate as to whether dogs are the best animal to service the blind.

In any case, this revision, for business owners, makes it easier for a business owner to spot whether someone has a ‘service animal’ or not. But it will cause consternation among disabled individuals with service animals who are not dogs — when they are denied entrance and probably bring about a few lawsuits between disabled individuals against businesses who deny them entrance. This is not a good thing. Eventually, this law will be revised again to have a broader scope than defining a service animal as a dog — simply because this definition is not effective. This will probably mean that businesses and organizations who learn about the original revision and change their policy will have to learn about the newer revision and CHANGE THEIR POLICY AGAIN.

It’s very possible that individuals in the government put this definition in place simply to 1) avoid further unfocused discussions as to what a service animal was 2) simply to have a revision in place which can later be re-tooled to be “on target”. In large organizations it’s often better to have an approximate policy in place to close the discussion than to go through the extra process of debate and risk losing having any policy at all. Eventually that kind of policy will be “cleaned up” through a more focused study with the framework of the approximate policy in place. Do any of you know what this kind of process is called? It’s something that I have observed happening but no one seems to be able to have a term for it.

In any case, since the revised Title III is long, for your ease, quoted below is the relevant text.

Service animal means 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 service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler´s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal´s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.

You can glance further down and see that miniature horses were considered as service animals, there is a section about them. Nonetheless, comparing this text with the definition above, you can see how businesses can be confused by this contradiction or not understand in depth enough what a service animal is — prompting all kinds of hostile feelings, disagreements and lawsuits.

I have quoted the applicable text below, for your reading pleasure:

(c) Service animals.
(1) General. Generally, a public accommodation shall modify policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.
(c)(2) Exceptions. A public accommodation may ask an individual with a disability to remove a service animal from the premises if:
(i) The animal is out of control and the animal´s handler does not take effective action to control it; or
(ii) The animal is not housebroken.
(3) If an animal is properly excluded. If a public accommodation properly excludes a service animal under § 36.302(c)(2), it shall give the individual with a disability the opportunity to obtain goods, services, and accommodations without having the service animal on the premises.
(4) Animal under handler´s control. A service animal shall be under the control of its handler. A service animal shall have a harness, leash, or other tether, unless either the handler is unable because of a disability to use a harness, leash, or other tether, or the use of a harness, leash, or other tether would interfere with the service animal´s safe, effective performance of work or tasks, in which case the service animal must be otherwise under the handler´s control (e.g., voice control, signals, or other effective means).
(5) Care or supervision. A public accommodation is not responsible for the care or supervision of a service animal.
(6) Inquiries. A public accommodation shall not ask about the nature or extent of a person´s disability, but may make two inquiries to determine whether an animal qualifies as a service animal. A public accommodation may ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. A public accommodation shall not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. Generally, a public accommodation may not make these inquiries about a service animal when it is readily apparent that an animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability (e.g., the dog is observed guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision, pulling a person´s wheelchair, or providing assistance with stability or balance to an individual with an observable mobility disability).
(7) Access to areas of a public accommodation. Individuals with disabilities shall be permitted to be accompanied by their service animals in all areas of a place of public accommodation where members of the public, program participants, clients, customers, patrons, or invitees, as relevant, are allowed to go.
(8) Surcharges. A public accommodation shall not ask or require an individual with a disability to pay a surcharge, even if people accompanied by pets are required to pay fees, or to comply with other requirements generally not applicable to people without pets. If a public accommodation normally charges individuals for the damage they cause, an individual with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal.
(9) Miniature horses.
(i) A public accommodation shall make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability.
(ii) Assessment factors. In determining whether reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures can be made to allow a miniature horse into a specific facility, a public accommodation shall consider –
(A) The type, size, and weight of the miniature horse and whether the facility can accommodate these features;
(B) Whether the handler has sufficient control of the miniature horse;
(C) Whether the miniature horse is housebroken; and
(D) Whether the miniature horse´s presence in a specific facility compromises legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation.
(iii) Other requirements. Sections 36.302(c)(3) through (c)(8), which apply to service animals, shall also apply to miniature horses.

Before I end this post, there are two general questions businesses always ask us. 1). How do I know whether someone has a service animal has a service animal and 2) Can I charge them more for bringing this animal in?

The answer to both is NO: a business CANNOT ASK what kind of disability an individual has. You can ask what the animal does (emotional comfort does NOT a service animal MAKE!)

And NO, businesses cannot charge the individual with a disability MORE (even if you can charge pets more) because service animals are not pets. If the service animal causes damage, then the owner is responsible for paying for that damage.

You can look at the Title III’s full regulations here: Title III Revised Regulations. Being educated is the first step to any kind of compliance. Unfortunately, there are TONS of regulations. Thats why we are around, to help you become educated about what you need to know.

One Comment

  1. […] So, to follow up on the complex ADA regulations and interpretations of service animals… […]