It seems there’s not much a dog—with their acute sense of smell and ability to be trained to recognize certain smells and perform various tasks—can’t do, whether it’s sensing a diabetic’s blood sugar is low, or alerting its allergic owner about to eat a life-threatening snack. Service dogs can pull wheelchairs, help military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, warn passersby if their owner is about to have a seizure, or remind an absent-minded owner to take medication.
Just as the number of conditions and disorders a service dog can be trained to help with increases, so too does the number of service dogs working in the general population. But increasingly, there are grey areas when it comes to determining whether a dog is, in fact, a service dog. Service dogs, by definition, are trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities, or assisting those with physical or mental impairments. And their rights are secured by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, as well as prohibiting discrimination of their use.
The act doesn’t specify requirements for licensing, certification or identification of the dogs, nor are they required to wear special identification in the form of collars, vests or harnesses. When dealing with so-called service animals, businesses are only allowed to ask two questions of dog owners:
- Is the dog required because of a disability?
- What task or service has the dog been trained to do?
Still, many business owners aren’t privy to the rights of service dogs and their owners, and may deny access to a potential patron, or request that the pooch stay outside. Pet Partners, a non-profit organization helping people live healthier and happier lives by incorporating therapy, service, and companion animals into their lives, suggests remaining calm. “Explain that the ADA (or state law if it provides greater protection) protects your right to be accompanied by your service animal in places of public accommodation. If that does not get you admitted, ask to speak to the manager or supervisor. Repeat the explanation. If you are still not admitted, you can politely offer to call the police to have them explain the law.” You can also file a complaint under Title III of the ADA with the U.S. Department of Justice if they are denied access with their service dog:http://www.ada.gov/filing_complaint.htm. The organization has also developed an educational brochure to be used in these situations.
Knowing your rights, and those of your animal can ease the integration of a service dog into your life and daily routine. But owners must also be aware of the rights of the public, while ensuring that the animal’s health and behavior won’t negatively impact the perception of service animals. When properly trained and well behaved, service dogs—with all they can do, and continuing to surprise us with their abilities—are a beneficial addition to society.
For more information on state laws regarding service animals, visit ServiceDogCentral.org.