I would like to follow-up on the topic of bringing our pets with us ‘everywhere we go’ and passing them off as service animals. Now I know we’ve spoken of this topic in the past but I have a conversation similar to this at least twice a week. (I truly wish I was joking.) “Oh your dog is so well-behaved. You are so lucky that you get to take your dog _____ (to work/to a restaurant/to the store/everywhere)”. I smile and nod. I then usually follow that with “Yes, he is, thank You; we’re very proud of him”. Quickly and often, the next statement is, “Well, I just don’t see why my dog can’t come with me when I go out, she is a good dog.” Again I smile and say, “Yes, I’m sure she is.” Often, I can make my escape with that, but from time to time I’ll get stuck and hear something similar to our recent post.
I’d like to try to take us down a somewhat more positive path, so let’s continue the conversation. Let’s say this person makes a point to say that she sees that the pet in question seems to really make a difference in her or her mother’s/father’s/son’s life and may truly be providing a service. In this case, that’s fantastic, and we often read of these cases, but is this not enough to head over to a search engine and order up a vest with service patches? Surprisingly, Yes. The ADA does not require service animals to be “certified”. Assessment and identification are not a legal requirements under the ADA. However, it is preferred. Many service dog trainers and programs evaluate the dogs they train and provide the handlers with some type of identification card.
The biggest issue with bringing animals into public environments is that not all animals have the temperament to work in public. Also, you must meet the ADA definition of having a “disability” and, to be considered a service dog, your dog must be trained to perform tasks directly related to your disability.
I think we should take the time to define “disability”
The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual:
(A) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
(B) A record of such an impairment; or
(C) being regarded as having such an impairment An individual meets the requirement of “being regarded as having such an impairment” if the individual establishes that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited under this chapter because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.
The only way that a dog can be recognized as a true “service animal” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is when the following conditions are met:
•The owner or handler has a documented disability as defined under the ADA,
•The animal must be trained to perform a task or tasks that alleviate that disability. The mere presence of the animal (for example, “s/he gives me a reason to get up every morning”) does not qualify a dog as a service animal.
•The animal must not alter the environment for others. This means that s/he must be kept on a leash and under the control of the handler at all times in public, must not show signs of aggression, must be kept quiet and clean.
I have already stated that the ADA does not require service animals to be “certified”. So, this does mean you can train your own animal. The Minimum Standards for Service Dogs documents the recommended characteristics and minimum set of skills required of all service dogs.
If your dog meets these requirements then your next step is to check on your own state’s laws regarding service animals. I would also personally recommend that you also find a certified trainer that provides the service of testing and providing an ID. Typically the ID expires on a yearly basis and requires a re-certification process to ensure the service team continues to meet the minimum requirements. These ID cards provide the handler documentation that can be used should the validity of your status be questioned. Another personal recommendation would be to carry a copy of this card, not the original. I feel that if a copy is good enough for my FCC license, it’s good enough for my service dog certification. I also carry business sized cards that state ADA law which we hand out liberally when questioned; we blogged about those in the past as well.
Alright, so why do I suggest all this certification if it is not required under the Americans with Disability Act and we are federally protected to the extent that it is illegal to question the status of your service animal? Here is one very good reason. It is a crime to misrepresent yourself as disabled and your untrained pet as service animal. In Connecticut, for example this is a Class C misdemeanor. This means you face up to 3 months imprisonment and a fine up to $500. Your state laws may vary.
I know we have readers outside of the United States (that makes us exceedingly happy) so please forgive my bias. In the future we’d like to include you. I feel like a travel post may be in our future. That could be fun and there are so many places Casper would love to visit.