Title II: Section 35.136 Service Animals
DogsBite.org - The Department of Justice is currently revising the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Sections of the act that will be amended include service and therapy pets. Currently, there are no formal training standards to qualify an animal as a service or therapy pet. Many of the revisions the DOJ has made, however, are helpful, including the distinction that animals whose sole purpose is to provide "emotional support" are not service animals.
DogsBite.org is concerned about the growing effort of pit bull owners and other animal groups that advocate pit bulls as "excellent" service/therapy pets. We believe these groups may hoodwink disabled persons into believing that a pit bull is a safe dog. We are also concerned how the DOJ defines an "attack dog." In the Minimal Protection area the DOJ writes: "excluding from coverage so-called 'attack dogs.'" But what is an attack dog?
Does a dog have to attack once before it is labeled an attack dog? In many instances, a violent attack is a pit bull's first attack. Pit bulls were selectively bred to hide warning signals before an attack. The degree to which a person "does not know" whether or not a pit bull will attack is high enough to exclude the breed from all service animal work. Neither the community nor a disabled person can afford pit bulls being used in this area.
Back in January, two pet pit bulls attacked and killed one of their owners. The victim, Kelli Chapman was 24-years old. The family believes the dogs attacked her because she suffered a seizure while sleeping. The genetic traits of this dog do not make them a suitable service dog. The death of Kelly Chapman is a concrete example. Disabled individuals need dogs that can help them, not dogs that kill them while they are enduring a seizure.
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Definitions. Service animal means any dog or other common domestic animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, assisting an individual during a seizure, retrieving medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and assisting individuals, including those with cognitive disabilities, with navigation. The term service animal includes individually trained animals that do work or perform tasks for the benefit of individuals with disabilities, including psychiatric, cognitive, and mental disabilities. The term service animal does not include wild animals (including nonhuman primates born in captivity), reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including any breed of horse, miniature horse, pony, pig, or goat), ferrets, amphibians, and rodents. Animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals.
Service animals. The Department wishes to clarify the obligations of public entities to accommodate individuals with disabilities who use service animals. The Department continues to receive a large number of complaints from individuals with service animals. It appears, therefore, that many covered entities are confused about their obligations under the ADA in this area. At the same time, some individuals with impairments -- who would not be covered as qualified individuals with disabilities -- are claiming that their animals are legitimate service animals, whether fraudulently or sincerely (albeit mistakenly), to gain access to the facilities of public entities. Another trend is the use of wild or exotic animals, many of which are untrained, as service animals. In order to clarify its position and avoid further misapplication of the ADA, the Department is proposing amendments to its regulation with regard to service animals.
Minimal protection. In the Department's ADA Business Brief on Service Animals, which was published in 2002, the Department interpreted the minimal protection language in its definition of service animals within the context of a seizure (i.e., alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure). Although the Department received comments urging it to eliminate the phrase "providing minimal protection'' from its regulation, the Department continues to believe that the language serves the important function of excluding from coverage so-called "attack dogs'' that pose a direct threat to others.
Guidance on permissible service animals. The existing regulation implementing title III defines a "service animal'' as "any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal.'' At the time the regulation was promulgated, the Department believed that leaving the species selection up to the discretion of the individual with a disability was the best course of action. Due to the proliferation of animal types that have been used as "service animals,'' including wild animals, the Department believes that this area needs established parameters. Therefore, the Department is proposing to eliminate certain species from coverage under the ADA even if the other elements of the definition are satisfied.
Comfort animals vs. psychiatric service animals. Under the Department's present regulatory language, some individuals and entities have assumed that the requirement that service animals must be individually trained to do work or carry out tasks excluded all persons with mental disabilities from having service animals. Others have assumed that any person with a psychiatric condition whose pet provided comfort to him or her was covered by the ADA. The Department believes that psychiatric service animals that are trained to do work or perform a task (e.g., reminding its owner to take medicine) for persons whose disability is covered by the ADA are protected by the Department's present regulatory approach.
Proposed training standards. The Department has always required that service animals be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, but has never imposed any type of formal training requirements or certification process. While some advocacy groups have urged the Department to modify its position, the Department does not believe that such a modification would serve the array of individuals with disabilities who use service animals.