Service Dogs

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.

 

Service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

Emotional Support Animals

An Emotional Support animal is a type of Assistance animal that is recognized as a “reasonable accommodation” for a person with a disability under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHAct, 42 U.S.C.A. 3601 et seq.). The Assistance animal is not a pet according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD is the agency that oversees the FHAct and investigates claims of housing discrimination.

 

There are only two questions that HUD says a housing provider should consider with a request for an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation:

(1) Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability? — i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?

 

(2) Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an Assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

Therapy Dogs

Unlike a Service Dog, a Therapy Dog is a pet trained to interact with many people other than its handler to make those people feel better. Therapy dogs are also trained to behave safely around all sorts of people, and are often certified.

 

A Therapy Dog handler is not given public access rights by any service dog laws to take the dog out everywhere like service dog users, because the handler does not have a disability the dog is individually trained to mitigate. Therapy dogs are only allowed into places like hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and libraries by prior agreement (again, not by service dog laws).

 

PSDP cautions against using a dog as both a Service Dog and therapy dog in most cases. This is both to ensure the dog has adequate downtime, preventing physical and mental burnout, and because service dogs are trained to ignore other people—the opposite of Therapy Dogs.

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