Service Dogs

Effective March 15, 2011, the term "Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.  Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purpose of this definition.  The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability.  Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence or people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.  The crime deterrent effects of an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purpose of this definition."   Eric Holder, United States Attorney General.

Service animals are trained to mitigate an individual's disability by performing such tasks as retrieving, leading, pulling, providing balance or alerting.  They are also trained to follow basic obedience commands such as sit/down, stay, come/here, heel, fetch, and leave it, as well as to exhibit exceptional behavior in public settings.

There are also service animals that serve individuals with medical or psychological conditions such as seizures, potentially dangerous changes in blood sugar levels, an incipient manic episode, anxiety, or a panic attack.  For persons battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, services animals can interrupt flashbacks and nightmares and reduce anxiety and stress.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses, non-profits, and government entities that
serve the public grant access to service animal teams in all areas the public is allowed.  Additional fees cannot be imposed.                                         

An individual with a service animal can be asked two questions: Is your dog a service dog required because of a disability, and... what task or tasks has the dog been trained to perform for you?  Inquiries into a person's disability cannot be made, nor can the owner/handler be required to have his dog perform a task for which it has been trained.   

Businesses have been known to inform service dog owner/handlers that local health department code requires only seeing eye guide dogs be granted access.  This is not true.  The business owner is committing a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which supersedes local and state regulation. 

Providers of transportation services may fear that admitting a dog into a taxi cab, bus, subway, train, or airport could be detrimental to business.  ADA legislation and the Code of Federal Regulation (49 CFR Parts 27, 37 & 38) address the provision of transportation services to persons with disabilities which requires all transportation entities, public and private, to provide service to a person accompanied by a service animal.

If you and your service dog are denied access to a state, local, or federal government facility, park, any mode of public transportation, or a business or non-profit organization that serves the public, call, or request that your local law enforcement agency be called.  Insist the officer file a formal report.  Ask when the report will be available and get a copy.  File a complaint with both the Office of the Attorney General in your state and the United States Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) division.  Many states impose criminal fines in addition to Federal penalties for denying access to a service dog team.  In Florida, "violators face possible incarceration and criminal fines. They are also subject to civil penalties for mental anguish, loss of dignity, and other tangible injuries, as well as punitive damages of up to $100,000."

Interested in researching further?  Visit the
Assistance Dog Laws and Legal Resources page on the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners website.  For state specific information, visit the Table of State Assistance Animal Laws.   
BE WARNED!!  To represent a pet as a service animal is a Federal offense, and in many cases violates state law as well.  A first offense can carry jail time and a hefty fine, and a business adversely affected can bring legal action to recoup any losses.

The aforementioned is not intended to interpret ADA law nor indicate who may or may not qualify for use of a service animal; that is a determination made by members of the medical profession and/or legal entities.

Service Dog is an initiative of Signal Dogs of West Central Florida and a unified group of service dog trainers.  Endorsed by   Bates-Buchanan Law Group, P.A., Citizens FOR Pets in Condos, Florida Service Dogs, Inc.International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, Invisible Disabilities AssociationService Dogs of Florida, Inc., and Tropical Dog Training.

Our mission is to promote awareness and responsible use of access rights for service animals and their owner/handler.

                                        INTERNATIONAL ASSISTANCE DOG WEEK - AUGUST 3-10, 2014

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