Service Animals

Service Dogs

The other day I ran across some interesting and ‘new-to-me’ information about Service Animals. I’ve learned some facts but have also found to confuse myself just a bit. That really shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who knows me. Anyway, here’s what I’m learning…

First of all, what exactly is and is not a “Service Animal”? A summary of the Federal Law states:

The rule defines “service animal” as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The rule states that other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals. Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals. The final rule also clarifies that individuals with mental disabilities who use service animals that are trained to perform a specific task are protected by the ADA. The rule permits the use of trained miniature horses as alternatives to dogs, subject to certain limitations. To allow flexibility in situations where using a horse would not be appropriate, the final rule does not include miniature horses in the definition of “service animal.”

Service Miniature Horse

In 2010 the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice revised the ADA service animals requirements:

  • Beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA.
  • A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
  • Generally, title II and title III entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.

Where it gets a bit confusing, however, is when you look at certain state laws. For example, the State of Maryland law says that a “‘Service animal’ means a guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability”.

In fact, Maryland is isn’t the only state that says a service animal doesn’t have to be a dog. About half of the country’s states apparently adhere to this as well. Doesn’t that seem a bit confusing? The US Government says a service animal is a dog only, while local Governments may say otherwise.

Regardless, if you work at an establishment and a person comes in with what might be a service animal, you’re only allowed to ask two questions (according to the DOJ revision):

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

Things you are not allowed to ask concern the person’s disability, documentation for the person’s disability, nor documentation/demonstration of the training or abilities of the dog.

Additionally, even if you have a ‘no pets’ policy, you have to realize that a service dog is not considered a pet. Bottom line is if someone comes in your business and they have what they claim is a service dog for a disability, you have to let them inside.

I’m curious if anyone can shed (pardon the pun) some experience or knowledge into this for me. Thanks!


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  • I learned from a friend of mine studying Criminal Justice that States have the right do this. For example, the Feds can say “dogs only” while States can say “Dogs plus…”, but States can’t say “Not dogs, instead…”