Service Animals 101

A yellow labrador with a traditional guide dog harness, a small dog with an orange desk, another yellow labrador with a vet on and another dog with a wheelchair.
Several different types of service animals are displayed

Ready to learn about Service Animals and the rights their handlers have? 🙂 I have been wanting to post an overall summary like this for a while but I’ve been editing it and adding more to it because I wanted to be as thorough as possible.

There are many different types of service animals but rarely do we see the others. I have heard of service monkeys and service miniature horses. However, beginning in March of 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act.) These titles allow service dogs to go wherever their handler is allowed to go. There are a FEW exceptions, but not many if the handler keeps their dog well-behaved and groomed. For example, for sanitary reasons a guide dog can go into a hospital but may not be allowed in the operating room. Where the general public is allowed to go, a service dog is.

Service dogs can be trained for many different purposes:

  • Guide dogs for individuals with visual impairments
  • Hearing dogs to alert individuals with hearing loss of different noises
  • Dogs for individuals with seizures to help alert them that they may be having a seizure before the individual realizes it AND to help protect them
  • Helping individuals with mental illness to take medications (I just learned this one recently)
  • Calming an individual with PTSD during an anxiety attack
  • Helping individuals with mobility impairments

There are probably several more but those are all that I know of. Service animals are considered “working animals,” not “pets.” This distinction is important because “pets” aren’t allowed in apartment complexes or many hotels with a “no pet policy,” but service dogs are. A service animal is NOT a “pet.” The handler also cannot be charged a pet deposit. However, if the dog makes a mess and damages property, if it is in regular practice for the establishment to charge for damage for individuals without disabilities, they can charge if the service dog damaged something. The same theory applies for different businesses and public establishments. What I found interesting is through talking to others at the school and reading online Emotional Support animals do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. This might have been the case in the past, I’m not sure, but it’s not the case now. For the longest time, I thought they were but then again I think they are still considered “assistance animals,” but “assistance animals” don’t have the same legal rights as “service animals,” do. Psychiatric service animals ARE service dogs though.. THere is a fine line between Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s) and Psychiatric Service Animals.. but I will have to further investigate that and write about it later. Ahh terminology!

When the service dog is in public, they must be “tethered, leashed or harnessed.”

Okay, now how that all specifically applies to Makiko. When in public, she should be wearing her harness. There are a few places where I would feel comfortable taking it off but not for awhile. These places are family-owned businesses where I know everybody and they would allow me to have Makiko without her harness on. There are some types of service animals that the law allows them to not harness/leash if they need to be unharness or not on leash to help the individual with the disability. Obviously in our case, she can’t help guide me if she doesn’t have the harness on really so we always have that on, unless we are in the few places described above. She’s always leashed though.

Okay, so real quick let me just fill you in on the law as it pertains to service animals.

The law states that a service dog can essentially go anywhere that their handler goes. The law also states that the business owner or manager of the establishment can ask 1) if it’s a service dog required because of a disability and 2) what work or task the dog has been trained to perform. They cannot require the handler to show identification that they are an official or certified working team nor can they interrogate into the person’s disability. They also can’t ask the handler & dog to demonstrate the tasks that the dog does for the person with the disability. Guide Dogs for the Blind did provide us with a picture, saying that we did graduate from their program and they are accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation. They also provided us ADA cards relevant to guide dogs and cards that state our individual state laws on them as well. I have been asked for identification once that I can remember and that was in New Orleans. A front desk attendant at a hotel asked us for ID and I told her that I did have it but it was illegal for her to require or ask me to show her it. However, I still carry it with me most of the time just in case something did go down and I felt that I (keyword: “I”, not “they”) wanted to show them that we were an official team, I could show it to them.

If the service dog, for example, starts looking like it is going to bite someone or starts going to the restroom in the establishment, the owner has the right to ask the service dog to leave. The ADA allows for this if the dog poses a direct threat to others health or safety. Again, there is a fine line on this one because some may use this to argue that the dog needs to leave if the person is severely allergic to the animal. The handler is allowed to come back inside, however, and receive reasonable accommodations if the service animal is not with them at a later date because of these type scenarios.

There are two other key pieces of legislation that cover service animals, the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. The Fair Housing Act pertains to residential housing and the Air Carrier Access Act allows service animals to accompany their handler on the flight. Each of these two different pieces of legislation also have different definitions of a service animal than the ADA does.

The above is federal legislation. Each state also has their own laws about service animals. I looked up Texas’ when I got Makiko but revisited it for this post. This information comes from the Texas Governor’s website.  Texas public facilities and transportation must allow a service dog handler and their dog, as well as a service dog trainer and their dog for training purposes. In a disaster, the law requires evacuation, transportation, and temporary shelter of a service animal. One thing that I found surprising was I knew it was against the law obviously to tell an individual with a service dog that they couldn’t have access, but I didn’t know it was punishable by fine of no less than $300 and not more than $1000. Texas law discusses the same access for housing and not requiring them service dog handlers to pay extra for their service dog to be present. I didn’t know that State employees were provided up to ten days to attend a training program for their service dog, nor did I know that Texas law provides that the service dog must be trained by an organization. I wonder how this applies to individuals who want to personally train their service dogs as I know this is a thing. Last, but not least, Texas law provides protection for service animals if they are attacked, injured, or killed by another person’s pet.

I hope you learned a little about Service Animals. If you have any questions, please let me know and if I don’t know, I’ll find out for you.

Published by

Jessica N and Makiko

Jessica is a proud Texan. She graduated in 2014 with her Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling and is now employed. She is visually impaired and has a retinal disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa. Originally Jessica started blogging about everything from being diagnosed with the disease to where she is now, almost 9 years later. Then, Jessica went to Guide Dogs for the Blind and was blessed with Makiko, her new guide dog. Now, her blog "The Way Eye See The World" is about everything related to visual impairments, including guide dogs.

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