Service dogs are working animals, not pets, trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.
Service dogs can be used in various situations including public accommodations, places of employment, housing, educational settings, and in transportation environments. In many situations their presence is protected by state and federal law. Service dogs are also referred to as “assistance animals.”
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities can include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working as well as the operation of major bodily systems. Similar definitions of disability are found in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act and Air Carrier Access Act, all federal laws which address the use of a service animal.
Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is not required to perform any specific tasks and is not required to be professionally trained, but its owner is expected to maintain control of the animal in a public setting. An ESA is meant solely to provide emotional support for their human companions and can assist with various kinds of mental and emotional conditions including anxiety, bipolar disorder, fear and phobias, depression, mood disorders, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal tendencies and others.
Emotional support animals are protected by federal law in the form of the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The use of service animals is also enforced by state and federal law.
Service Dogs Perform Many Tasks
Some of the work which service dogs do includes:
• Working with disabled children
• Working with diabetics who are alerted when their sugar levels drop or rise
• Working with the hearing impaired
• Working with those who suffer seizures
• Working with those who need assistance with mobility
• Working with nursing home residents
• Working with veterans
• Working with victims of autism, and
• Serving in bed bug detection
The cost of a service dog is at least $34,000, according to Paws 4 Ability, a Xenia, Ohio group that trains and places service dogs with disabled children and others. Families are charged a $17,000 fee for a service dog and can cover the fee in a variety of ways including fundraising for the organization. The dogs from this organization must be recertified annually and Paws 4 Ability advises that it costs between $1,500 and $2,000 a year to maintain a service dog.
Another organization aimed at helping people with disabilities face daily challenges to their independence is Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence (ADIA) based in Sylvania, Ohio. The group has been working with assistance dogs and therapy dogs for more than 25 years. They have worked with children with muscular dystrophy and spina bifida and adults with cerebral palsy and spinal cord injuries. The therapy dogs offer comfort and companionship to children in schools, persons in nursing homes, individuals with developmental disabilities and those who have Down’s Syndrome. Inmates at the Toledo Correctional Institution have raised and trained some of the service animals for ADIA.
Acceptable Work Under ADA
Some examples of the work a service dog can perform under the ADA, include, but are not limited to:
• Assisting a blind person or one who has minimal vision with navigation and other tasks;
• Alerting a person who is deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of other people or sounds;
• Providing non-violent protection or rescue work;
• Pulling a wheelchair;
• Assisting a person during a seizure;
• Alerting a person to the presence of allergens;
• Retrieving items, such as medications, or a telephone;
• Providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to a person with a mobility disability;
• Helping a person with a psychiatric or neurological disability by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behavior.
When a person appears in a place of public accommodation, he should have harnessed, leashed or tethered his service animal or maintain control of it through other effective means such as signals or voice control. There are only two questions a disabled person can be asked regarding his or her service animal according to federal law. They are:
• Is the animal required because of a disability?
• What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
If the answers to these questions are obvious, they should not be asked of the disabled individual. A person with a service animal in a place of public accommodation does not have to produce documentation or proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed.
Under the Ohio Administrative Code, Section 4112-5-06, “animal assistants” are not limited to dogs. It defines an “animal assistant” as “any animal which aids” a person with a disability.
The Ohio Revised Code (ORC) defines assistance or service animals more narrowly and refers to “dogs” in most of the statutory language, but any Ohio Administrative Code or ORC provision which conflicts with the American Disabilities Act would likely be preempted by the ADA because federal law supersedes state and local requirements.
Discrimination against people with disabilities in the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale or rental of housing is prohibited by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. This means landlords must not refuse to make reasonable accommodations if a tenant with a disability needs a service animal to afford him “equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” The landlord must grant permission for the service animal even if pets are restricted or prohibited in the dwelling. Service animals are not limited to dogs under the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the animal does not have to be trained or certified.
Emotional support animals can also be considered a reasonable accommodation for a person’s disability under the Fair Housing Amendments Act.
A landlord can refuse a service animal accommodation if it would mean an undue financial or administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing. For example, if an animal is disruptive to other tenants, or if it poses a direct threat to the health, safety or property or others, it could be excluded despite the federal law protecting the accommodation.
The ADA prohibits an employer from refusing to grant reasonable accommodations if an employee with a disability is unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job without a service or emotional support animal. This also includes applying for a job. If the presence of the animal would impose an undue hardship on the business, it is possible the request for accommodation could be refused. It is also important that it be demonstrated that the service animal or emotional support animal is the only effective accommodation available.
It is also possible to legally have a service animal in a school setting. This includes public schools, universities and school districts. If a school denies a student with a disability the equal opportunity to participate or benefit from an educational program by not allowing the use of service animal, it could be in violation of federal law. School districts may offer alternative modifications to the use of the animal, but they must be equally as effective as functions the service animal would perform.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, the ADA, the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 and Ohio law govern what a person with a disability is permitted to do as far as bringing his or her service animal on to public transportation. Sometimes a person must provide documentation to be permitted to bring the service animal, particularly on a commercial airline, especially “certain unusual service animals” such as snakes, ferrets, rodents and spiders.
The commercial airline must determine whether any factors exist which would preclude the animal’s presence in the cabin and cause significant disruption to cabin service. Examples would be if the animal is too large or heavy for the cabin, if it would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others, and if the presence of the animal would prohibit the airline from entering a foreign country.
Registration Process in Ohio
Under Ohio law, if application is made for registration of an assistance dog, ORC 955.011 states that the owner must demonstrate that the animal is a service dog. Then, the registration is permanent and no annual renewal is necessary as long as the owner has a registration number and has been issued certificates and tags stamped “Ohio Assistance Dog – Permanent Registration.”
The Ohio Disability Rights Law and Policy Center in Columbus, Ohio has additional information about service animals in Ohio and federal and state laws which address this issue.