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When Our Furry Companions are More Than Pets: Happy Assistance Dog Week

August 10, 2018
A service dog stands ready to work.

This week, we officially celebrate assistance dogs. They change the lives of people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.

As stated in the official proclamation (PDF):

“Assistance Dog Week presents an opportunity to raise awareness of the services provided by assistance dogs and recognize their vital role in helping those with disabilities overcome daily struggles and maintain self-sufficient lifestyles…”

So let’s recognize these important, furry members of our society!

Types of Assistance Dogs

Assistance dogs, guide dogs, service dogs … These terms almost seem synonymous, but not quite. Typically, “assistance” is used as the general term, and the others help us understand what exactly the dogs do. Different sources will categorize types of assistance dogs differently, but here are a few widely-used terms to get us started:

  • Service dogs help people with a variety of disabilities perform specific tasks, like carrying items and pushing buttons. (Some of the following categories often fall under this as a general term.)
  • Guide dogs help people who are blind or visually-impaired navigate their surroundings.
  • Hearing dogs alert people who are deaf or hearing-impaired to sounds like doorbells and sirens.
  • Seizure alert dogs warn their owners and others of an oncoming seizure and help relieve their negative effects.
  • Medical alert and medical response dogs help with oncoming medical emergencies like strokes and panic attacks.
  • Emotional support dogs help alleviate symptoms or effects of a person's disability

What does this mean for businesses?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects service dogs and sets laws around where they are allowed. The animals protected under the ADA must be trained for a specific job or task, by a professional or otherwise. The ADA does not require these animals to be certified, licensed, or registered as service animals, and they don’t need to wear vests, patches, or specific harnesses.

The ADA does not include emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals in its definition of “service animals,” because these animals have not been specifically trained.

Service animals protected by the ADA must be allowed to accompany their handlers in all business or organization facilities open to the public (excluding religious facilities), even if animals are otherwise prohibited. The dogs can go anywhere customers are normally allowed to go, and their handlers cannot be charged extra, isolated, or treated less favorably than other patrons.

A business cannot ask a person to remove their service animal from the premises unless the animal is out of control or poses a threat the others’ health or safety.

If it’s not obvious that an animal is a service animal, staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, ask the dog to demonstrate proof of its training, or require any documentation for the dog. They can ask either of these two questions:

  • Is the dog a service animal?
  • What work or task is the dog trained to perform?

Sometimes, a person requires assistance of two animals. Generally, this person should be allowed to keep both animals with them, unless the business cannot accommodate both, like in a small, crowded restaurant.

If you have questions about service animal requirements, speak with an ADA specialist at 800-514-0301.

Housing

Under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, people with disabilities can request reasonable accommodation (PDF) for any assistance animal, including an emotional support animal. So your landlord or apartment complex can’t refuse you and your assistance dog a home because of their “no pets policy.” After all, these dogs aren’t pets.

Housing providers can only refuse your request if at least one of the following occurs:

  • They find you don’t have a disability-related need for the animal (of which providers may ask for documentation if not known or readily apparent)
  • Making the accommodation would cost the provider undue financial and administrative burden
  • It would fundamentally alter the nature of the provider's services
  • The specific animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others
  • The specific animal would cause substantial physical damage to the property (based on individualized and objective evidence)

If you believe you’ve experienced housing-related discrimination, file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Traveling

Remember, the ADA rules around service animals apply to all businesses that serve the public. This includes taxis and shuttles, as well as public transit and ride-share services. So even though a taxi driver might be wary of letting dogs in their car, it’s illegal for them to turn someone away for having a disability or service dog, or to charge higher rates for these reasons.

If you’re flying, the Air Carrier Access Act protects animals that are specifically trained as well as animals that provide emotional support for people with disabilities.

Unlike restaurants, hotels, and retail stores, airlines can require physical indicators and documentation to verify that an animal is a service animal. They can also request specific documentation or 48-hours notice that an animal is an emotional support or psychiatric service animal.

While on a plane, your dog should be under the seat in front of you, or (if small and safe) on your lap. The dog can’t block an aisle or emergency exit.

If you’re leaving the U.S., check the laws of your destination country; Not all countries permit service animals from other countries.

Learn more about traveling with service animals from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Special Programs

Patriot Paws trains and provides service dogs for disabled American veterans at no cost.

In the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice’s Rescue 2 Restore Animal Program, youth train rescue dogs that need a second chance.

Rachel Hart

About the Author

Rachel Hart is the User Experience Designer for Digital Services Georgia. On Georgia.gov, she makes government material approachable with writing, infographics, videos, and other imagery.

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