Ever wonder what makes some people qualify to use a Service Dog?

Or wonder what the difference was between a Service Dog (SD), Therapy Dog (TD), and Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. 

Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.  Visit the ADA website here.

Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.  ESA's can be any animal including dogs, cats, and other pets.  ESA's are not required to be trained in any fashion and help their person simply by being present with the owner.  ESA's are not required to be of any particular temperament or even required to have manners.  This is why ESA's are not required to be allowed in public places the same as SD's are.  The law that allows ESA's only applies to housing accommodations and can be found under the Fair Housing Act.  ESA's used to access to travel with their person in and airplane, however the  Transit Authority that sets that regulation updated their policy recently and no longer allow ESA's to fly in the cabin with their person.  Only SD's are granted this accommodation.

What is a Therapy Dog?  Therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people in environments where humans might experience stress.  Since the 1980’s, there have been significant advances in the field of animal assisted therapy and the use of therapy dogs. Humans are learning more and more these days about the health benefits of dogs. As a result, public interest in therapy dogs has been increasing. Therapy dogs provide relief to those in anxiety-provoking situations, bring comfort to those who are grieving or lonely, and offer affection to humans who are in institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. 

Where are Service Dogs Allowed

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 allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it usually 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.

Places that are exempt from ADA Law may not allow a Service Dogs or have their own requirements that need to be met prior to allowing a Service Dog. Exempt places include Federal Land & Buildings, Churches or other places of worship, and places that house other animals that may be put in jeopardy if a SD was allowed. As a Service Dog Handler, you can contact these places before attending to see what their policy on SD's is and what you may need to do prior to attending. Places of worship tend not to have a special policy on SD's so you may need to get prior permission from a Pastor or Board before attending with your SD.

What kind of training do Service Dogs have to have?

A service animal must be under the control of its handler. Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless the individual’s disability prevents using these devices or these devices interfere with the service animal's safe, effective performance of tasks. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.

Service Dogs in Training (SDiT's - puppies or dogs not fully trained yet) are not covered under the ADA Laws, so handlers must follow the state or local laws pertaining to SDiT's. 

Michigan recently updated their SD Law to include SDiT access with trainers and puppy raisers.  This includes owner trainers.  Here is the way the new law, which was accepted in 2022 is written:

A service animal must be under the control of the person with a disability and must have a harness, leash, or other tether. If the person with a disability is unable because of a disability to use a harness, leash, or other tether or the use of a harness, leash, or other tether would interfere with the service animal’s safe and effective performance of work or tasks, the service animal must be otherwise under the control of the person with a disability.

A service animal in training must be under the control of the animal raiser or trainer and must have a harness, leash, or other tether. If the use of a harness, leash, or other tether would interfere with the animal’s safe and effective performance of work, tasks, training, or socialization, the service animal in training must be otherwise under the control of the animal raiser or trainer.

“Animal raiser or trainer” means an individual who raises and socializes a service animal in training with the intent that the animal will become a service animal.

Wisconsin and Illinois also allow SDiT to have public access as long as that animal is potty trained and under control of the handler at all times.

Can kids have Service Dogs?

YES!  Anyone who is disabled can legally have a SD with them in places where general public are allowed to be.  If the child, often a teenager, can handle their own dog providing for his needs and being responsible for the dogs actions, that child may be considered the handler.  However if the child is too young or unable to handle the dog themselves, a parent or aide may be the dog handler.  

If you have additional questions about Service Dogs check out this 
ADA FAQ page.  I'm happy to answer any questions that I can, but remember that I am not a lawyer so any answers that I give would be from a SD Handler perspective and not legal advice.

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