SERVICE ANIMALS

We are all aware of the existence of service animals, like guide dogs for the blind, but what are the legal parameters that govern these animals and what prevents misuse of these laws by non-disabled individuals?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only dogs are recognized as service animals, although the act was subsequently amended to allow miniature horses as well. “Emotional Support Animals” (ESA’s) do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. The ADA permits service animals accompanied by people with disabilities to be allowed in all areas open to the public. If the service being provided by the dog is not obvious, then the law permits staff to ask only two questions of the alleged person with a disability: “1. is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? And, 2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?” Staff cannot ask what the disability is or require proof of either the disability or the formal training of the dog or even ask to have the dog perform the trained acts. Furthermore, the only time a person with a disability can be asked to remove the dog from a public area is if the dog is out of control and the handler does not take action to control it, or if it is not housebroken.

Based on the limited inquiry permitted by law, the potential for misuse of this law is enormous. If the disability of the person is not apparent and they cannot be questioned about their disability and the dog is not required to have any special identification, what prevents someone who does not have a disability from claiming their dog is a service dog regardless of whether it is or is not just to bring them wherever they want? Connecticut law does not and cannot require more stringent inquiries into either the person’s disability or the dog’s training or licensure without violating federal law. In addition, Connecticut has no penalty for someone who misuses the law should he be caught. The law is basically relying on the honor system.

Finally, this rule is for places open to the public. It does not apply to private property that is not open to the public. However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a regulation regarding “Assistance Animals” that does apply to private property such as rental properties and it has a much larger definition of permissible animals. This will be the subject of my next blog.

(For more specific information see: https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm)

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