An FAQ About ADA Service Dog Registration

The above is a picture of a man from the waist down walking his service dog across the street.

Chances are you have encountered service animals before, maybe helping a blind person or assisting a veteran with PTSD. These dogs help people who have physical or emotional disabilities to successfully navigate the world around them. As such, they are an absolute boon to their companions, who would otherwise live with a much lower quality of life -- or whose life might be in grave danger.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation and confusion surrounding the public perception of service dogs. What is required for ADA service dog registration? What kind of animal qualifies for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and what does that protection entail? 

Read on for answers to the most frequently asked questions!

Q: What is a service animal, exactly?

A: Currently, only dogs can be registered as service animals. These dogs are specifically trained to work or provide a particular service or set of services to their companion people. That work must be directly related to the person's diagnosed disability.

Q: What kind of work? What do service dogs do?

A: Many people think of service dogs only as "seeing eye dogs" for the blind. There are many more tasks that these animals can perform, however. They can help a person with epilepsy by alerting them to an imminent seizure and/or keeping them safe during that seizure. They can alert a diabetic to the fact that his or her blood sugar is dangerously low, and remind them to take insulin.

A service dog can pick up items, or reach high switches or doorknobs, for a person who uses a wheelchair. It can let a deaf person know that there is someone knocking on the door, or that there is a stranger approaching them from behind.

Service dogs can help with emotional disabilities, as well. This could mean reminding a person with depression to take their medication or keeping someone with anxiety safe during an anxiety attack.

Q: I have seen videos of an "emotional support chicken" and a "therapeutic miniature horse." Does those count under the ADA?

A: No. The ADA only recognizes animals that have been trained to do a specific task related to the disability. As helpful as animals that provide comfort can be, they aren't considered "service animals" on a federal level.

Some states, however, do recognize companion animals such as these and allow them to be taken into public areas. If you acquire an emotional support animal to help you feel better when you are stressed, anxious, or otherwise emotionally impaired, you will need to check with local ordinances to know if your animal can accompany you.

Q: What breeds of dogs are qualified to be trained as service animals?

A: There are no breed restrictions under the ADA. Any breed of dog that has been properly trained and registered as a service dog is entitled to protection under the law.

Q: A service dog has to wear a vest or collar identifying it as such, right?

A: Many people are surprised to learn that a service animal is not required to wear or display any identification. Nor does the animal's handler need to supply documentation certifying the dog as an ADA-approved service dog.

Q: Where can a service animal go?

A: Essentially, the dog may go anywhere its disabled companion goes. This includes hospitals, hotels, restaurants, airports, classrooms, office buildings, stores, and most other public places.

There are a few exceptions, however. Churches, synagogues, and other places of worship are exempt from the ADA on the federal level. There may be state regulations in place that concern the use of service animals in religious institutions.

Public health policy restricting dogs from swimming pools still applies to service dogs. Gyms, recreational centers, hotels, and other places with swimming pool facilities must allow service dogs on the pool deck, so that they can remain close to their handler.

Q: Can people -- the manager of a restaurant, for example -- demand proof that an animal is a service animal?

A: No. The only questions that can be asked of a service dog's companion are:

1.     Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?

2.     What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Q: Who is responsible for the care and safety of a service dog?

A: The handler assumes all responsibility for a service animal. Public places that serve food and drink are not required to provide those for the animal, although they may do so at their discretion.

Nor must a restaurant allow the service dog to be seated in a chair or to access the table.

Q: Can a service animal be carried, or must it walk alongside the individual with a disability?

A: The dog may be carried in the disabled person's arms or in a carrier device. It may ride in the person's wheelchair, if applicable. In some cases, close proximity or access to the person's face is necessary for the dog to perform its task.

For example, dogs that are trained to monitor glucose levels in diabetics may need to smell that person's breath in order to carry out its task.

Q: What happens if a disabled individual is denied access to a place because of their service dog, or if the dog itself is denied access?

Any individual who believes that access has been denied to him or her because of his or her use of a service animal may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Moreover, those individuals are also entitled to file a private lawsuit in federal court for discrimination under the ADA.

Final Thoughts About ADA Service Dog Registration

As you can see, there are many aspects to registering a service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you are considering getting a service dog, or you are employed by an establishment that may encounter service dogs and their handlers on a regular basis, it's a good idea to brush up on the rules and regulations concerned ADA service dog registration.

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