How should schools or businesses handle allowing service dogs to enter? Is it a certified service dog or a pet posing as such?
SERVICE DOGS DEFINED
SERVICE DOG REGULATIONS & HOW THEY SERVE US
E. Katie Gammill November 2011
Following WWI, German Shepherd Dogs became famous as guide dogs for the blind and also gave wounded soldiers mobility. Wearing the service dog harness, dogs were welcomed into most establishments and forms of transportation.
Today Labradors and Golden Retrievers are popular breeds for service dogs. Smaller breeds are often used as hearing ear dogs. Service dogs are in such demand today that the training schools struggle to meet the demand.
Determining the validity of a service dog’s status can be tricky. What about the practice of taking a dog in the airplane cabin on the basis of it being a service dog? Making the right decision “on the spot” can be extremely difficult. A school board may have someone to represent the board regarding legalities but what does a restaurant, flight attendant, or store owner do to avoid legal action?
Federal Laws as outlined in the American Disabilities Act (ADA) dictate that no disabled person with a service dog will be denied access to any public entity.
Therefore, just what is a service dog? Today certified service dogs assist those with epilepsy, hearing loss, blindness, diabetes, agoraphobia and anxiety disorders. They attend those with cerebral palsy, post traumatic disorders, brain injuries, paraplegia and autism. These highly trained animals are independent thinkers that protect their owners’ safety and assist in daily living chores. To be eligible to receive a service dog, the disabled person must have the proper environment to provide for the dog’s needs.
What is the legal protocol regarding the dog’s presence and is it imperative the animal be “certified” as a service dog? Under the ADA, different circumstances can require different considerations, see Ref #1 or refer to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act Ref #2 for further information.
What about classrooms? Today the Public Act 96-1555 of the 2010 legislative session article 14, Disabilities Act 105IL ds/14-6.02 (2011) allows professionally trained Service Dogs to accompany children into Illinois classrooms. Ideally, the Service Dog is trained by a recognized professional Service Dog Organization. The dog wears a vest or back pack for identification. Each school should designate a contact person for requests related to Service Dogs and that person should be aware of the public policy as well as the legal and appeal process. Some schools have lawyers on retainer for such negotiations. Different laws pertain to different states, so it is best to check with the State involved. One can find specific Federal, State and local government statutes regarding service animals at the ADA website, Ref #3.
In school surroundings, the Service or Assistance dog may trigger an interest by other students. The dog’s training results in the Service Dog being tolerant but it does NOT seek attention from others and does NOT interfere with student activities. Despite concerns, certified Service Dogs are quiet, well behaved at all times, and they are there for the comfort and safety of the disabled person. The school might provide a program to educate students so they understand expected behavior of both themselves and the Certified Service Dog. After the initial introduction into a classroom, things should go smoothly.
The general public should NOT talk to, feed, touch, or attempt interaction of any kind with a Service Dog while it is on duty. It is however, appropriate to ask the dog’s handler about the dog.
The certified Service Dog is groomed and has NO odor. It is house broken and does NOT solicit attention or food. It does NOT vocalize in any manner. If an unusual behavior of the dog is noticed, immediate attention is required to assess the condition of the patient. Service Dogs are non-aggressive. Every Service Dog deserves rest breaks and an area should be provided as this dog is on call 24/7. A responsible adult must be assigned to monitor the dog if the student’s age or disability requires such.
Some issues may surface regarding Service Dogs and they must be taken into consideration and tactfully resolved. Other people may suffer from allergies, fear of animals, etc. and each case must be addressed individually and resolved for all concerned. Specific accommodations such as an air purifier could be required.
Service Dog regulations are often misunderstood. Therefore, if a business or school receives a request to permit a Certified Service Dog (or any other canine) to accompany a disabled person, research of Federal Disability Laws is imperative. Failure to do so may result in unnecessary legal fees and spending of tax payer monies. In most States, the disability is NOT to be identified publicly; however the facility receiving a request for Service Dog presence has the right to ask what the “service dog” provides for the disabled person.
Awareness and understanding from both sides is needed. Case in point: In New York, a deaf student was barred from taking a Certified Service Dog into the classroom. This resulted in a law suit involving $150 million dollars because the student’s civil rights were violated. An appeal is currently pending.
Federal Law takes precedence over State Law but the best advice is to seek council before making any decisions. This will insure the request goes through proper channels and is handled in a way that complies with the Federal mandate. This circumvents problems for both the establishment and the disabled person requesting the presence of a Certified Service Dog. See Ref #4 for a wealth of information.
Ref #1 www.usdeptofhealthandhumanservices.com
Ref #2 www.hhs.gov/ocr.com
Ref #3 www.americanswithdisabilitiesactregulations.com
Ref #4 www.assistancedoginternational.com
Related Article: DOJ Rules No Service Dog Discrimination