…on yesterday’s post.
1) The definition I’m using of “service dog” is not my personal opinion, it’s the term as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (as amended in 2008) and the revised ADA regulations implementing Title II and Title III. To be a service animal/service dog, the dog must be individually trained to assist a person with a disability by performing tasks.
A disability is defined as:
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 (as described in paragraph (3)).
(2) Major Life Activities
(A) In general
For purposes of paragraph (1), major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.
(B) Major bodily functions
For purposes of paragraph (1), a major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.
So, to have a service dog, you must first meet this definition of disability.
Per the revised Title II regulations
Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.
So 1) you must meet the definition of disability and 2) you must have a dog (an exception was made for miniature horses that lead the blind) and 3) that dog must be trained to perform work or tasks directly related to your disability. If these criteria are not met, you do not have a service dog. You may have a highly trained working dog, but if you are not a person with a disability, you do not have a service dog. You may be a person with a disability, but if your dog is not trained to do things for you that are directly related to your disability, you do not have a service dog.
If you have an emotional support animal, and have a letter from your doctor stating that this animal is beneficial to you, then you have some rights regarding things such as no pet policies in rental housing. You do not have public access rights with an emotional support animal, though.
This page from Service Dogs Central has a great explanation of the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Psychiatric Service Dog. It’s worth noting that after the revised regulations from the Department of Justice, your cat cannot be a service animal but your cat could be an ESA. ESAs are more flexible than service dogs (you do not have to have a disability, you do not have to have a dog, you do not have to train the animal to perform specific tasks that help out with your disability), but in return you do not have public access rights.
These are not me spewing random opinions, they’re the legal definitions the federal government has set for “service animal” and “emotional support animal.”
Other things to note: under the ADA, a business can exclude a service dog who is behaving disruptively or poses a threat to other people. That’s why the service dog handler community is so concerned with making sure our dogs are public-access-ready and can do their jobs without causing a scene. People who take untrained, undersocialized dogs places and claim they’re service dogs are doing a huge amount of harm to people who actually need their service dogs to go about their lives.
And believe me, it’s not a hidden perk of disability to use a service dog. People can be very rude and it can take a lot more energy than I have on some days to go out with a service dog and fend off the invasive questions, the attempts to endanger me by attracting my service dog’s attention, and rude comments like “you better have a muzzle on that dog.” Yes, I’ve gotten that one personally. Claiming that a well-trained, non-disruptive dog is a service animal is less likely to do damage to actual service dog handlers but is very, very dishonest. If you do not have a disability, you do not have access rights with your pet dog. Period. You’re trivializing the need for laws to protect access rights that people with disabilities genuinely have when you decide you’re going to pretend to be disabled and take your dog with you.
Some states, it is worth noting, may grant access rights to ESAs and other working dogs. Police K9s are commonly covered for access under state laws while they are doing their jobs. At the end of the day, when the police dog is no longer on duty, its handler no longer has access rights for the dog. SAR dogs are generally covered by laws allowing them access to places while they are doing their jobs or en route to them. But you can’t take your police K9 or your SAR dog into a restaurant when there is no job for the dog to do there, and demand access under federal law. Just the way the laws are written.