Service dogs are helpful pals. They can be trained for mobility assistance, emotional support, companionship, and various tasking skills. But the question is this: do I qualify for a service dog? The answer to this is a little more complicated than what most people expect. Some applicants don’t even need a service dog technically but an emotional support dog and vice versa.
When it comes to ADA-certified service dogs, the applicant should have an officially diagnosed condition based on the description indicated in the American Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the ADA, a disability should either be a physical or mental impairment that directly and substantially limits one major life activity or more.
This is just one of the conditions to qualify, read on to know more.
Requirements to qualify for a service dog
The ADA ruling applies all over the U.S. So anyone with a qualified disability can apply and acquire a service animal given that it will improve their quality of life. Some service dog training agencies will have their own discretion when it comes to placing service dogs to a handler’s care. This can be but not limited to the following:
🐶The handler has a diagnosed physical or mental disability.
🐶There is no other dog at home. Why? Because this can affect the behavior and safety of the service dog over time.
🐶The handler should meet the emotional, physical, and financial needs of acquiring a service dog.
🐶The person can handle or command the service dog on his or her own.
🐶The handler has a stable home environment.
🐶The handler is mentally and physically able to attend daily training in owning a service dog.
A legitimate service dog certification is also a necessity. Take note that emotional support animals aren’t considered as service animals under the ADA rules. Even if a doctor has a recommendation for an emotional support animal, it doesn’t turn the dog into a service canine. In short, only those dogs that are trained to perform tasking skills are considered and protected by the ADA.
Here, Julie Swanson and Jennifer Laviano discusses the qualification under ADA:
Rights of the handler
All handlers of legitimate service dogs are allowed to be accompanied by their service animals in every establishment and public facility. This is even if the facility, say a restaurant, has a no-pet policy. Basically, a service dog isn’t a pet but a working animal. But do I qualify for a service dog? It depends on your condition.
Remember that as the handler of a service dog, you’re not required to state your condition or disability. In case the establishment asks, you have the right to decline to give an answer. In return, they still have to allow you to enter given that you present proof that the dog is a legitimate service dog.
Basically, the establishment should only ask you two questions which you’re bound to answer:
🐶What are the specific skills that the service dog is trained for?
🐶Is the service dog required due to a disability? (no follow-up questions about the disability)
But in cases if the service dog’s role is obvious, it goes without saying that the aforementioned questions need not be asked. Some good examples here is a service dog guiding its handler on a wheelchair or leading a blind person.
In case the dog misbehaves or failed to practice control, the establishment can ask the dog to be escorted off the facility. The handler should still purchase or avail the service or product he’s getting from the establishment without the canine.
Responsibilities of a handler
A service dog is expected to perform some tasks whereas its handler is also required to take care of the dog’s well-being. Also, the handler is expected to take full responsibility for the service dog in case the canine fails to render the discipline it should possess. The ADA requires all handlers to be in control of the dog which is why it’s a requirement that all handlers undergo training before the dog is placed in their care.
Here are some of the responsibilities that ADA imposes to service dog handlers:
🐶The service dog should be in physical and/or command control of the handler. It includes a leash or tether or in case the handler can’t be physically attached to the dog, verbal cues. The dog should be properly trained for this.
🐶The service dog should have complete shots and vaccinations as mandated by the U.S. laws.
🐶The service dog should be fully housebroken.
🐶Secure legitimate service dog certification
The handler can also decide on the size and type of dog to get depending on his lifestyle. Independent agencies like service dog schools can also help on this part.
Where are service dogs allowed?
Generally, establishments, communal spaces, and non-profit organizations should allow service dogs to enter their facility together with the handler. When it comes to establishments that serve food, service dogs should be allowed as well regardless if there are local codes in place. Remember, the rules of the ADA overrides the local and state laws. So do I qualify for a service dog? If the federal law states so, local codes can’t flip the ruling.
Aside from that, service dogs are allowed at the following places:
Handlers should be allowed to bring their service dog at work as much as they are allowed to bring it to other establishments. The EEOC or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doesn’t have a specific ruling when it comes to service dogs. And since the ADA is in place, the employer has the right to ask for documentation to prove the service dog’s role and the presence of a disability.
However, if the service dogs are at risk or are exposing the workplace in danger, they can be denied to enter.
Housing and accommodation
No service dog handler should be discriminated by their landlord’s on the grounds of owning a service dog. The Fair Housing Act protects persons with disability from discrimination when it comes to obtaining housing or getting accommodation.
The FHA states that landlords should give reasonable accommodation to the person with a disability. This includes service dogs and emotional support animals. With this, the dog shouldn’t be considered as a pet but a working dog. A legitimate service dog certification should prove this.
Both the ADA and the Disabilities Education Act supports the use of a service dog at school. This is if the presence of the service dog will justify the student’s rights for quality and inclusive education. Under the DEA, even uncertified service dogs can accompany a student if it improves the person’s ability to learn.
How about emotional support dogs? This is rarely allowed by schools since no law protects emotional support animals. Usually, this will be a case-to-case basis to be decided by the school and the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).
Even if buses, trains, and other means of land transport indicate that they have a “no pets allowed” rule, service dogs shouldn’t be denied entry. On the same note, the handler shouldn’t be forced to isolation or to sit in a specific spot just because s/he is carrying a service dog.
Most of all, the handler shouldn’t be charged an extra fee for being accompanied by a service dog nor the person should be required to notify the transportation provider ahead. If the transportation provider declines the entry, the handler can file an ADA complaint.
It’s a known fact that airlines have strict rules when it comes to flying with pets. Most of the time, they don’t allow in-cabin travel for dogs. However, this can be circumvented if the pooch is a service dog. Aside from the ADA, there’s the Air Carrier Access Act that mandates airlines to allow handlers the in-cabin travel with their service dog or emotional support animals.
Airline personnel have the right to ask questions about the service dog or demand documentation. However, they can’t press the handler to state his or her condition and its extent. Here are some airlines and their rules:
Jet Blue. Documentation, identification cards or vests, and showing a good response to verbal cues.
US Airways. You should provide at least one of the following: animal ID card, harness or tag, credible verbal assurance, accompanying documentation.
American Airlines. Tags and vests plus verbal assurance in case the airline do further inquiry.
Alaska Air. The service dog should respond to verbal cues, wear a harness or a vest, and perform tasking skills.
Virgin America. Credible verbal statement of the handler, I.D., and the presence of a tag or vest.
How to tell if the service dog is legitimate
For establishments and aspiring service dog handlers, the only way to find out if a service animal is legitimate is to ask about it. Ask for documentation and proof of training to ensure that the dog placed on your care is trained for specific tasks that will help your condition.
Do I qualify for a service dog? Just take note that not all disabilities are visible to the eye. Take PTSD and depression for example. Unless the handler states (which s/he isn’t required to do so), the only way of recognizing a service dog is through its vest and accompanying documentation.
Most of the time, establishments aren’t supposed to ask for documentation. An identification card or vest would be enough to spot a service dog. This as well isn’t a requirement. A service dog may appear just like any typical canine.
Nevertheless, a legitimate service dog certification will help handlers prove their service dogs’ legitimacy.
The cost of acquiring a service dog
Before you consider acquiring a service dog, you should first know the actual cost. Training a service dog, regardless if you own it or not may cost around $20,000 up to $40,000. This will cover the cost of training, veterinary care, food, and other expenses.
Obviously, not all private individuals can afford such an exorbitant fee. This is why many agencies provide financial assistance and funding to help persons with disability acquire a service dog. In our previous post, we discussed service dog training schools and the cost of applying for a service animal.
So do I qualify for a service dog? If you suffer the above mentioned conditions, you should be a good candidate for a service dog. But remember, as always, every right comes with responsibilities too.