Movin' On with Nellie: A glance at ADA Service Animal requirements

Strangers and friends sometimes stop me with my service animal/dog and ask how one trains and gets a service animal certified.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, no certification is required from the government. The main requirement is that the animal must be under control and must work or complete tasks for the disabled. On the Internet, surfers can find endless numbers of sites that offer certification if one pays $60 to $20,000 and more. These sites are charging and offering certification that is not required by the government. In other words, they are likely scamming those who need a service animal. So it is up to those who need a service animal to do research and understand the law.

The Department of Justice defines a service animal: “A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” The agency also states that a service animal is not a pet; and the service animal must be under control at all times. Agencies, businesses, even medical institutions cannot refuse entry to the disabled who have a service animal.   “Generally, title II and title III entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.”

Those groups who train seeing-eye service dogs or seizure alert service dogs have developed their own internal certification. We have all seen those special news reports about a blind student receiving a dog that not only accompanies the disabled but also guides the person and alerts to dangers.

For instance, those who have documented Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may need a service animal to alert to distress, calm the anxiety and panic attacks. The disabled can train their own service animal to complete tasks like this. When your primary care provider prescribes a Psychiatric dog or PTSD Dog/service animal, then documentation is provided. Keep a copy of the prescription for easy access.

DOJ in a 2011 posting also says: “Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of ‘assistance animal’ under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of ‘service animal’ under the Air Carrier Access Act.”

Steps to qualifying a dog as a service dog are: 1) secure a prescription/letter from doctor for the service animal with specific needs: blind guide dog, PTSD Psychiatric Dog, or hearing service dog; 2) train your dog in obedience training and train for specific tasks like alerting to medical condition; 3) keep immunizations up to date for the service animal); 4) (I recommend to circumvent objections) prominently label your dog so that it will be recognized as a service animal (a leash marked “service animal, access required” or a bright vest with patches “PTSD DOG” or “Service Animal.”

An emotional support dog qualifies as an “Assistance Animal” under the fair-housing act; but does not meet the ADA requirements for providing a specific task. Providing a letter of prescription for a landlord, updated shot records, gives the renter protection that the “Assistance Animal” will be allowed legally in housing. 

An “Assistance Animal” is not protected as a service animal and does not have the rights that an ADA Service Animal does when frequenting restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, and other public domains.

Bottom line, an ADA service animal is allowed to go anywhere a human can go: bathrooms, shopping malls, grocery stores, hospitals, clinics and movie theaters (and so on). However, the business may ask the dog and owner to leave if the dog is disruptive or aggressive. Although a service animal is allowed in hospital settings or doctor offices, it may not be appropriate for the service animal to be in a surgery room where sterile conditions may be compromised.

If you see me with my service dog, say “hi” and let me know how your process is going. But don’t fall prey to the scammers charging – instead read the DOJ’s guide to service animals:

Look in the Valley Courier classifieds for an obedience trainer: I recommend the San Luis Valley Dog Training Center: 719-379-4157. Their ad often runs in the Valley Courier Want Ads.

--Nelda Curtiss is a retired college professor who enjoys writing and fine arts. Contact her at [email protected]