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Article: Guide to Community-Based Living

Service Animals

Table of Contents
  1. Individualized Planning
  2. Case Management Services
  3. Community-Based Programs for People with Disabilities and Elderly
  4. Inclusive Programs/Activities
  5. Personal Assistance
  6. Self Determination
  7. In-home Services
  8. Service Animals

A service animal is defined as a dog that is individually trained to perform work or tasks for a person with a disability. As of March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under Titles II (State and Local Services) and III (Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

There is a new separate provision about miniature horses (generally 24-36” tall measured at the shoulders). There are assessment factors associated with their use, so it is important to know them prior to employing one. Although without legal provisions, Capuchin monkeys, also called “Helper Monkeys’ have been used very successfully to perform a variety of manual tasks for quadriplegics.

The International Association of Service Dog Partners classifies three types of assistance animals:

  1. Guide Animal – for guiding the blind
  2. Hearing Animal – to signal the hearing impaired
  3. Service Animal – to perform work for persons with many different types of disabilities.

ADA service animal definitions can be different than other important definitions for specific uses. As an example the Fair Housing Act or Fair Carrier Act may provider broader definitions based on the usage requirements in their settings.

One of the misconceptions about services animals stems from the early use of the term “seeing eye dogs”. Service animals are not just for use in assisting vision impaired individuals.   They may also be trained to alert the deaf, alert and protect people prone to seizures, remind people with special needs to take medications, calm people with anxiety attacks related to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other specialized duties relating to assisting a person with a disability. It is important to remember that they are not pets, they are working animals and are usually “on duty”. It may be tempting to “pet” such an animal – always ask the owner first, and please don’t be offended if the answer is “no”.

HOW - The use of service animals has specific responsibilities as well. The animal must be under control. The ADA requires harnesses, tethers or leashes unless those devices interfere with the service animal’s work in assisting the person with the disability. When this is the case, the individual MUST maintain control of the animal through voice, signal or other effective method.  

WHERE – Per the ADA, State and local Governments (title II) and businesses and non-profits (title III) that service the public must allow service animals to assist individuals with disabilities in ALL areas of the facility where the public would normally have access. There are rare exceptions such as a hospital Operating Room, but the exceptions are rare. Again State and localities may provide broader regulations. Fear of dogs or allergy sensitive areas are NOT valid reasons for refusing access to service animals.

Valid requests to remove a service animal a very limited and include when the animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action, and also if the animal is not “house-broken”.   When either of these is the case, staff must offer the handler the opportunity to receive the same goods or services that the public would obtain without the presence of the service animal. Staff must also be very careful about what they ask the handler. They can only ask whether the animal is required and about the specific tasks the dog has been trained to perform for the individual. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, ask for documentation or ask to see the animal perform the tasks as a demonstration. Food service businesses must allow service animals access even if local or state health codes prohibit access by animals. 

For more information on Service animal requirements see www.ADA.gov. You may also wish to search local regulations, including housing authority and FAA carrier regulations for additional laws which may apply.

Assistance Dogs International
Assistance Dogs International is an international organization dedicated to improving the training, placement, and use of assistance dogs. It has information on different types of service dogs, related laws, and more.

Last Updated on 10/23/2015