Though the ADA has been in place for almost 30 years now, there is still confusion and misconceptions about service animals (SA). This is true not only for public entities that interact with SAs, but also for handlers of SAs. Let’s look at 10 questions that we regularly receive at the ADA Center and uncover the myth and the truth!
1. If a service animal handler allows others to pet the dog, it’s not really a service animal.
False. It’s NEVER okay to pet a SA without the handler’s permission. But sometimes the handler will give approval to pet the SA. There is no legal prohibition against petting the SA. Only the limitations the handler sets (Why you Can’t Pet Service Dogs). The test of whether it’s a ‘real’ SA or not is if the SA is trained and under the control of the handler. So the SA should not be running around, barking excessively, relieving itself inappropriately. If this happens, the handler should take action to stop these behaviors. Remember that a dog - even one that is well-trained - is still a dog, and can be distracted from its task. The handler has the responsibility to get the animal back in control, or to remove the SA.
2. Only certain breeds of dogs, such as labs and retrievers, are recognized as service animals.
False. Any breed of dog can be trained and MUST be allowed into a facility if the handler has verbally verified that it is a service animal that has been trained to provide a specific ‘job’ or task for the owner. Some examples of tasks include a dog that has been trained to lay across the chest of someone having a seizure, mitigating the duration of the seizure. Another task is alerting and interrupting the handler with autism of repetitive motions or dangerous actions.
3. All service animals have been professionally trained and have some kind of documentation to verify that.
False. The ADA does not require that a professional service be used. A person with a disability can train its own dog to perform a task related to their disability.
4. A person with a disability can need more than one service animal.
True. Some persons may have more than one disability, and each disability may need a separate SA to perform the needed task.
5. All true SAs are certified and listed in a national registry maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice.
False. There is no documentation or certification required. There is also no federal registry for service animals.
6. If a SA is disruptive in a public place, there is nothing the business can do about it.
False. There are reasons that a SA can be excluded or asked to leave a facility. Staff do have recourse if an animal is out of control or changes the nature of the services provided.
7. If I take my SA to a hotel with me, I can leave it in the room while I go out to eat.
False. To meet the definition of a SA, the dog must be under the control of the handler at all times. If the SA is left in the hotel room by itself, it is not under the control of the handler.
8. SAs are allowed in the shopping cart along with my groceries.
False. Grocery carts are for groceries.
9. Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Post Office and the Veteran’s Hospital, do not have to follow the ADA and thus don’t have to allow SAs into their facilities.
10. Private apartments also have no ADA requirements to meet.
True AND False (ANOTHER Trick Question). The ADA does have requirements for the public access portion of apartments (i.e., a business office that is open to the public). But private housing is covered under the Fair Housing Act. It has different rules and protections than the ADA. This is also true for airlines (Air Carrier Access Act) as well.