Apparently, some people in a Pennsylvania community are passing their pets off as service dogs — and the business owners there aren’t happy about it.
According to a recent media account, the concerns about alleged activity prompted a community meeting at the Kennett Public Library in Kennett Square. The chief concern addressed there was that laws designed to protect people who really need service dogs also make it difficult to take any action against people who clearly don’t.
Use of service animals under the ADA
For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal 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.”
In this context, a dog that is taught to detect the onset of a medical emergency such as an epileptic seizure, or hyper/hypoglycemia in a diabetic, and take a specific action to help the person based on that is legally classified as a service animal. A dog that facilitates routine tasks or its handler’s mobility can also be classified as a service animal.
The ADA differentiates service dogs/service animals from emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals, which “provide comfort just by being with a person,” and have not been trained to perform specific tasks.
However, the ADA also stipulates that:
- There are no breed restrictions when it comes to service animals.
- Exclusion of a service animal based solely on “assumptions or stereotypes about the animal’s breed or how the animal might behave” is not permitted. The only exception to this is if “a particular service animal behaves in a way that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, has a history of such behavior, or is not under the control of the handler.”
- Communities that ban certain breeds “must make an exception for a service animal of a prohibited breed, unless the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.”
- There are no requirements pertaining to the use of vests, ID tags, or specific harnesses to identify service animals.
- Service animals must be under the control of the handler at all times.
Exclusion of service animals under the ADA
In accordance with the ADA, a handler may be asked to remove the service animal from the premises if it is “out of control” and the handler fails to “take effective action to control it.”
Businesses are also allowed to prevent service animals from entering the premises of admitting them would “fundamentally alter the nature of the service” provided there.
In this context, it is also important to note that proprietors and staff can only ask for limited information in situations where it is not clear whether the dog is really a service animal. Specifically, they can ask: a) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and; b) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
They cannot ask for any documentation for the dog, demand that the dog demonstrate its task, or ask about the nature of the person’s disability.
In many cases, the Department of Justice says, it would be pointless to ask for documentation even if businesses and proprietors were allowed to do so.
“There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online,” the agency explains. “These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.”
What about housing?
The ADA applies to any housing program overseen by a state or local government, such as a public housing authority, and by places of public accommodation, including public and private universities.
Then there’s the Fair Housing Act, which covers nearly every type of housing, regardless of whether it is public or privately owned; including housing covered by the ADA. Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers must permit, “as a reasonable accommodation,” the use of animals that “work, provide assistance, or perform tasks that benefit persons with a disabilities, or provide emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability.”
You can learn more here.
The bottom line
As stories about “fake” service dogs and emotional support animals continue to make headlines, lawmakers across the country are taking notice. To date, 21 states have taken steps to deter people from wrongfully presenting their pets as service and support animals.
Recently, I wrote about Connecticut’s efforts to thwart the activity. You can find that post here.