The benefits that service dogs bring for many people with disabilities worldwide is an undeniable fact. However, the public is still not fully aware of the nature of service animals and what their rights and responsibilities are.
Once again we would like to note that service dogs are considered working animals or even medical equipment, that may be life-saving for their handlers. Service Animals are not pets and the pet policy that public premises run does not apply to them.
We have received emails from our students who were denied access to public entities while accompanied by their service dogs. In today’s article we would like to discuss the obstacles that people with service dogs need to overcome on a daily basis and why such difficulties occur anyway.
Service Dog Regulations in the US
Service dogs in the US are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. ADA defines a service animal as “dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability”.
Service Dog Training
Service Dogs in the US are not required to be professionally trained. This means that if you want to train your dog, as you have the time, the energy and the patience for that, you have the right to do it.
You can take a look at the full text of the ADA below:
“Q5. Does the ADA require service animals to be professionally trained?
A. No. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.”
Service Dog Certification and Registration
Service dog owners in the US are not required to certify or register their dogs
The ADA states:
“Q17. Does the ADA require that service animals be certified as service animals?
A. No. Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry.”
“Q20. My city requires me to register my dog as a service animal. Is this legal under the ADA?
A. No. Mandatory registration of service animals is not permissible under the ADA. However, as stated above, service animals are subject to the same licensing and vaccination rules that are applied to all dogs.”
Service Dog Gear
Service dogs in the US are not required to wear any kind of service identification gear such as vests, harnesses and ID tags.
“Q8. Do service animals have to wear a vest or patch or special harness identifying them as service animals?
A. No. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness”.
Service Dog Access
Service dogs must be granted access to the premises where their handlers go. However, there are some exceptions mentioned on the ADA website, that handlers need to be acquainted with:
“Q25. When can service animals be excluded?
A. The ADA does not require covered entities to modify policies, practices, or procedures if it would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public. Nor does it overrule legitimate safety requirements. If admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited. In addition, if a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if it is not housebroken, that animal may be excluded”.
Why Difficulties Occur
Some Disabilities Are not Recognizable
Many disabilities are not clearly recognizable i.e. anxiety, depression, PTSD, diabetes, seizures, high blood pressure…etc. Many people who look totally healthy on the surface actually cope with different types of physical and mental conditions. When unable to determine the disability at a first sight, employees are likely to automatically presume, that handlers are accompanied by their pets and logically start treating their pets according to the premise’s pet policy.
Employees Can Not Identify Dogs as Service Dogs
Since wearing any kind of service dog gear and having a certification is not mandatory, employees may find it difficult to confirm that visiting dogs are service dogs.
Fake Service Dogs
Some dishonest people are likely to abuse the ADA regulations, which may be considered open and generous towards service dogs, and fabricate information only to ensure their dogs have access to certain services. Fake service dogs tarnish the reputation of service animals and make business owners and employees more suspicious.
Employees Are Not Familiar With the Regulations
Unfortunately, many employees are still not aware of service dog rights and responsibilities and do not know what questions they are allowed to ask and what documentation they may require. Sometimes employees may violate the rights of the handler and their service dog.
How to Prevent Any Misunderstanding
Employees Should Know How to Verify Whether a Dog Is a Service Dog
Both employees and handlers should be familiar with the regulations and know the rights and responsibilities of service animals. Employees are legally allowed to ask people with disabilities the following two questions:
1. Is this a service dog due to a disability;
2. What tasks he/she has been trained to perform.
Handlers Are Required to Keep Their Dogs Under Control at All Times
Service dogs need to be under control and behave properly while in public. They must not sniff around, be disruptive and disturb the comfort of passersby.
Service Dog Gear Is Recommended
Although wearing service dog gear is not mandatory, it may be helpful for handlers while in public. That way handlers will show that their dog is currently working, performing various tasks for their benefit, and the dog has gone through training. Hence, the dog is obedient, has good manners and knows how to behave around people and other animals.
If you notice that employees are suspicious of your dog and are not likely to welcome him/her in the premise, we would recommend that you explain to them the situation in a friendly manner and let them know what tasks your dog has been trained to perform.
Remember, that they may not ask you about any documentation as proof of training. However, having a certificate may be beneficial for you.
We also would recommend that you contact the management prior to visiting in order to avoid any issues that may occur.
What to Do if You and Your Dog Are Still Denied Access Even After You Followed the Steps Above
In case that employees do not want to let your dog, even after you explained that he/she is a service animal and described the tasks that he/she has been trained to perform, you are allowed to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. Below we will quote the ADA rules in regard to this matter:
“Q30. What happens if a person thinks a covered entity’s staff has discriminated against him or her?
A. Individuals who believe that they have been illegally denied access or service because they use service animals may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. Individuals also have the right to file a private lawsuit in Federal court charging the entity with discrimination under the ADA.”
Since many handlers want to be able to fly with their dogs in the cabin, we will clarify some essential points in regard to airline regulations.
Are Airlines Required to Comply with ADA
According to the information listed on the ADA website:
“No. The Air Carrier Access Act is the Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities in air travel. For information or to file a complaint, contact the U.S. Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division, at 202-366-2220.”
You can find more information about the section “Passengers with Disabilities” here as well as more information about the section “Service Animals” here.
How Do Airlines Determine Whether an Animal Is a Service Animal?
Airlines can determine whether an animal is a service animal or pet by:
Asking an individual with a disability if the animal is required to accompany the passenger because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform;
Looking for physical indicators such as the presence of a harness or vests;
Looking to see if the animal is harnessed, leashed, or otherwise tethered;
Observing the behavior of the animal.
What Kind of Documentation Can Be Required of Persons Traveling With Service Animals?
Airlines may require:
(1) a U.S. DOT form attesting to the animal’s health, behavior, and training;
(2) a U.S. DOT form attesting that the animal can either not relieve itself or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner, if the animal will be on a flight that is 8 or more hours.”
We hope that today’s article will help you manage better any situations while public and know how to deal with cases when you and your service animal have been denied access.