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Service dogs are dogs that have been individually trained to perform a specific task for individuals who have disabilities. The disabilities can vary greatly, and so do the tasks that the service dogs perform. Service dogs can aid in navigation for people who are hearing- and visually impaired, assist an individual who is having a seizure, calm an individual who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and even dial 911 in the event of an emergency. Many disabled individuals depend on them every day to help them live their everyday lives.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an individual with a disability is entitled to a service dog to help them live their lives normally. The ADA protects disabled individuals by allowing them to bring their service dog with them to most places that the public is permitted, including restaurants, hotels, housing complexes, and even in air travel. Any dog can be a service dog, and service dogs do not have to be professionally-trained. The important thing is that the dog is trained to be a working animal and not a pet.
Service dogs are often identified by wearing a service dog vest or tag, letting the public know that it is a service dog; otherwise, their handlers will find themselves having to explain everywhere that they go that their dog is a service dog. Some businesses, such as airlines, prefer to see an identification card or vest that indicates that the dog is a service dog. The Americans with Disabilities Act has a specific definition of a disability, and it states essentially that a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.
A disability can take many forms, including bodily functions such as those of the neurological, respiratory, digestive, circulatory, and reproductive systems. Here is a list of some disabilities that individuals may have that may be helped by having a service dog: Mobility Issues (Including Paralysis) Sensory Issues (Blindness, Hearing Loss, etc.) Diabetes Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Cancer Autism Epilepsy
If you are limited in your ability to perform major life tasks such as seeing, hearing, standing, walking, eating, sleeping, thinking, speaking, or other similar tasks, then you likely have a disability that would make you eligible to have a service dog under ADA laws. The service dog helps you in performing the particular tasks that you would otherwise be unable to perform without the service dog.
You are NOT allowed to be asked by an owner, manager, or other representative of a business what your disability is that allows you to have a service dog. That information is private and you do not have to disclose it to anyone if you are asked. The only information that may be asked is if it is a service dog, and what tasks the service dog is trained to perform for you. For example, if you have a mental illness that requires that you take medication and your service dog is trained to alert you when it is time to take your medication by tugging at your shirt, then you may explain the task your service dog performs, but you are not obligated to divulge the nature of your illness or disability.
ADA law gives individuals the right to live with their service dog regardless of any building or residences with a no pet policy. A service dog is not considered a pet and is required for daily life functions and activities. Building managers or landlords may not refuse your service dog nor may they require you to submit any pet deposits or fees for your service dog. Hotels fall under the same policy as well. They are not permitted to deny access to you or your service dog and may not charge any extra fees or collect any deposits.
ADA law also allows service dogs on airplanes when individuals with service dogs are traveling and they do not have to pay an extra fee to have their service dog by their side. Here are the guidelines that some of the airlines have with regards to flying with your service dog.