Service dogs are dogs that have been individually trained to perform a specific task for individuals who have disabilities. The disabilities can vary greatly, and so do the tasks that the service dogs perform. Service dogs can aid in navigation for people who are hearing- and visually impaired, assist an individual who is having a seizure, calm an individual who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and even dial 911 in the event of an emergency. Many disabled individuals depend on them every day to help them live their everyday lives.
Service dogs are protected under federal law
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an individual with a disability is entitled to a service dog to help them live their lives normally. The ADA protects disabled individuals by allowing them to bring their service dog with them to most places that the public is permitted, including restaurants, hotels, housing complexes, and even in air travel. Any dog can be a service dog, and service dogs do not have to be professionally-trained. The important thing is that the dog is trained to be a working animal and not a pet.
Identifying service dogs for the public
Service dogs are often identified by wearing a service dog vest or tag, letting the public know that it is a service dog; otherwise, their handlers will find themselves having to explain everywhere that they go that their dog is a service dog. Some businesses, such as airlines, prefer to see an identification card or vest that indicates that the dog is a service dog.
The Americans with Disabilities Act has a specific definition of a disability, and it states essentially that a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.
List of Disabilities
A disability can take many forms, including bodily functions such as those of the neurological, respiratory, digestive, circulatory, and reproductive systems.
Here is a list of some disabilities that individuals may have that may be helped by having a service dog:
- Mobility Issues (Including Paralysis)
- Sensory Issues (Blindness, Hearing Loss, etc.)
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Bone and Skeletal (Such as Osteoporosis, Scoliosis, etc.)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Do you have a Disability?
If you are limited in your ability to perform major life tasks such as seeing, hearing, standing, walking, eating, sleeping, thinking, speaking, or other similar tasks, then you likely have a disability that would make you eligible to have a service dog under ADA laws. The service dog helps you in performing the particular tasks that you would otherwise be unable to perform without the service dog.
Your Disability and Public Knowledge
You are NOT allowed to be asked by an owner, manager, or other representative of a business what your disability is that allows you to have a service dog. That information is private and you do not have to disclose it to anyone if you are asked. The only information that may be asked is if it is a service dog, and what tasks the service dog is trained to perform for you. For example, if you have a mental illness that requires that you take medication and your service dog is trained to alert you when it is time to take your medication by tugging at your shirt, then you may explain the task your service dog performs, but you are not obligated to divulge the nature of your illness or disability.
Living With Your Service Dog
ADA law gives individuals the right to live with their service dog regardless of any building or residences with a no pet policy. A service dog is not considered a pet and is required for daily life functions and activities. Building managers or landlords may not refuse your service dog nor may they require you to submit any pet deposits or fees for your service dog.
Hotels fall under the same policy as well. They are not permitted to deny access to you or your service dog and may not charge any extra fees or collect any deposits.
Flying With Your Service Dog
ADA law also allows service dogs on airplanes when individuals with service dogs are traveling and they do not have to pay an extra fee to have their service dog by their side. Here are the guidelines that some of the airlines have with regards to flying with your service dog:
Documentation and Requirements for Traveling with a Service Animal
Service Animals shall have identifiers such as identification cards, other written documentation, presence of harnesses, tags or “the credible verbal assurances of a qualified individual with a disability using the animal”.
There is no charge for service animals used by customers with disabilities. A harness, tag or vest indicating status as a service animal will be helpful in distinguishing them to airport personnel. However, credible verbal assurance that the animal is providing a service to assist with a disability will suffice should an inquiry be made.
To show that an animal is a service animal, you must provide one of the following:
- Animal ID card
- Harness or tags
- Other written documentation
- Credible verbal assurance
Service animals (seeing eye dogs and other animals that are appropriately certified by a physician or other credible person/agency, etc.) may accompany a Guest with a disability on a flight. Any of the following evidence is acceptable as proof of an animal’s service status.
- An identification card for the animal;
- The presence of harness or markings on harnesses tags; or
- The Guest’s credible verbal statement.
There is no additional charge to travel with a working service animal.
A harness, tag or vest indicating status as a service animal will be helpful in distinguishing them to airport personnel. However, credible verbal assurance that the animal is providing a service to assist with a disability will suffice, should an inquiry be made.
Properly harnessed service animals may sit at the traveler’s feet, unless the service animal is too large and obstructs an aisle or other area used for emergency evacuations.