Service Dog or Emotional Support Pet?
The ADA Laws (American with Disability Act) are meant to assist disabled persons and not make them feel ostracized when they must bring a service animal with them to places where you wouldn’t expect to see a dog. While the intention of this law is completely admirable, others are using ignorance of the specifics regarding service animals to purchase a fake “license” to enable them to bring the family pet along on vacation.
All over the internet you will now see ads for how you can pay a small fee that will enable you to bring your “Service dog” anywhere you go! In California I can personally attest to the fact that people are bringing their pets to the movies, the gym, grocery story and every where in between. They are essentially saying: because of the ADA regulations, “you can’t even ask me a question about my dog- just open the door and let us in!”
As a person who is severely allergic to dogs and cats with resulting asthma, I can tell you that MY life has been adversely affected by people who are flaunting the laws, and that businesses that clearly don’t understand how the ADA works. In a recent visit to a hotel, I apparently stayed in a room where “service dogs” had stayed. Although there was no evidence of dog hair, the dander and even saliva can stay active for 6 months! I was sick for two days with asthma, needing to be on continuous medication to breathe and unable to exercise. My nose was rubbed raw from continuously blowing (like when you have a BAD cold) and my eyes itched. I was miserable!
This was also the case when I took a flight on Southwest airlines and had to sit in a seat where I later observed dog hair. After a 6 hour flight exposed to this I was unable to start my vacation for 2 days trying to recover to the expose to pet hair.
When I mention this problem to a number of people their response is: “take a benadryl”. They insist that the other person’s rights are more important than mine!
There has to be some way that considers the actual needs of both parties. I totally support the need of disabled people to bring their service dogs wherever they go. But there must be an area where asthmatics and people with severe allergies will NOT be exposed. I would venture to say that owners of TRUE service dogs would not approve of people flaunting these regulations to bring their untrained pets along with them.
First and foremost, business owners must realize that Emotional Support animals are NOT covered under the ADA- they are NOT Service Dogs.
Service Dog Defined
A “service dog,” under California law, is a dog trained to help a specific individual with a disability with services such as fetching dropped items, minimal protection work, rescue work, or pulling a wheelchair.
Second, it is further limited to dogs that are trained to help individuals with their specific requirements.
Furthermore, even a dog will not qualify as a service dog if it is not individually trained to help an individual with a disability (in a way that is related to his or her disability).
“Psychiatric” Service Dog Defined
California doesn’t have a separate definition for “psychiatric service dog,” but a dog that is individually trained to help a person with a mental disability with specific requirements is considered a service dog, and an individual that uses such a dog is entitled to the same rights under the law as someone with a physical disability that uses a service dog.
Examples of work or tasks that a service dog can be trained to perform for someone with a mental disability include:
- waking someone with clinical depression and coaxing them out of bed at a specified time in the morning
- responding to an owner’s panic attack by initiating contact to comfort the individual, and
- alerting a person exercising poor judgment due to bipolar disorder that they are driving dangerously.
With regard to business establishments that have fallen under the spell of “You can’t ask a person about their service dog” this is patently false!
Can the Operator of a Public Place Require Proof That an Animal Is a Service Dog?
A public place can ask only two questions to determine if that individual’s dog is a service dog:
- whether the dog is required because of a disability, and
- what work the dog is trained to perform
The public place cannot require a person to “prove” that their dog is a service dog. A service dog is not required to be registered, certified, or identified as a service dog. However, in California, pretending to be an owner of a service dog is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 (and/or up to six months imprisonment).
How a business owner would respond to this information is probably going to be very dicey. They don’t want to lose customers. But until the public that is affected by allergies to pets (estimated at 10% of the population) starts standing up for THEIR RIGHTS, the continual flagrant violation of the laws will continue.
What do you think? How do we protect the legitimate rights of two groups of people when their needs are the opposite?