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Service Animals

I have a friend who has a service dog. This dog is amazing, and takes her job quite seriously. She is trained to perform specific duties and she does these perfectly.

My friend’s dog is a Papillion. Her tiny size does not interfere with the service she performs, but to the ill-informed, people sometimes doubt that this miniature pooch can be a service dog.

What is a Service Animal?

According to information gathered on the U.S. Department of Justice’s American Disability Act:

“Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a 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.

The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.

Are emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals considered service animals under the ADA?

No.  These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person.  Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.  However, some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places.  You may check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.

Here is where it gets confusing. Service animals aren’t required to wear any special vest or indication of their designation. So, how do you know if an animal is a companion, comfort or service animal? You can ask, but the law limits the questions to the following:

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

You can’t request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.

We’ve heard stories about various animals being declared as support or service animals. These aren’t dogs, so they aren’t service animals. Pigs, chickens and lizards have all made the news. Peacocks, snakes, squirrels and hamsters have also created headlines. These news sensations do a disservice to those who rely on their service animals.

These controversial stories make it hard for my friend. She just wants to quietly live her life and stay healthy. Her dog doesn’t bark or create any distraction, other than its cuteness can be hard to resist. But resist we must. Do not pet a service animal while they are working. They have an important job to do, and any distraction is unwelcome.

Some of us may roll our eyes at the concept; our judgments may be harsh. We may think, “Isn’t that person just sneaking a pet on to the plane?” I can’t speak for every situation, but I know that service animals can do amazing things, such as detect low blood sugar, medication needs, and seizures, to name a few. Veterans and others with PTSD have been mightily helped by service animals.

So, the next time you see someone with a service animal, keep in mind that the animal may be saving a life, which is a lot more than I get done in a day.

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