A service dog is a type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities, such as visual impairment, hearing impairments, mental illnesses (such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)), seizure disorder, mobility impairment, and diabetes.
Desirable character traits in service animals typically include good temperament or psychological make-up (including biddability and trainability) and good health (including physical structure and stamina). Some service dogs are bred and trained by service dog organizations. Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers are the most common breeds used as service dogs, but any breed or mix of breeds is capable of being a service dog, though few dogs have all of the health and temperament qualities needed. Such a dog may be called a "service dog" or an "assistance dog," depending largely on country. "Seeing eye dog" is frequently used as a genericized term, but it properly refers to dogs trained by a specific organization and not to all guide dogs.
On September 15, 2010, the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, issued "ADA 2010 Revised Requirements; Service Animals." It states that:
"Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."
This revised definition excludes all comfort animals, which are pets that owners keep with them solely for emotional reasons that do not ameliorate their symptoms of a recognized "disability"; animals that do ameliorate the conditions of a medical disability, however, such as animals that ameliorate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, are included in the definition. Unlike a service animal, a comfort animal is one that has not been trained to perform specific tasks directly related to the person's disability. Common tasks for service animals include flipping light switches, picking up dropped objects, alerting the person to an alarm, reducing the anxiety of a person with post-traumatic stress disorder by putting its head on the patient, or similar disability-related tasks. A service dog may still provide help for people with emotions related to psychiatric disabilities, but the dog must be trained to perform specific actions, such as distracting the person when he or she becomes anxious or engages in stimming or other behaviors related to the disability.
While the ADA has narrowed the definition of service animals that are required to be permitted in places of public accommodation, other laws still provide broader definitions in other areas. For instance, the Department of Transportation's regulations enacting the Air Carrier Access Act permit "dogs and other service animals" to accompany passengers on commercial airlines. The Fair Housing Act also requires housing providers to permit service animals (including comfort and emotional support animals) without species restrictions in housing.
Because there is no federal certification of service animals in the United States, staff must take declaration of an animal's service status at face value. Furthermore, they are restricted in the questions they may ask about the animal:
When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability; and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person's disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
Where service dogs are allowed
Public access rights of owners of service dogs vary according to country.
"Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment."
Disabled owners of service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA) which generally gives them the right to be accompanied by their service animal anywhere the general public is allowed. Additional federal laws protect people with disabilities partnered with service animals, as well as other types of assistance animals, from discrimination in housing (the Fair Housing Amendments Act) and on aircraft (the Air Carrier Access Act).
Although the ADA allows service dogs to accompany owners most everywhere the public is welcome, emotional support animals do not have the same breadth of protection. The Fair Housing Act permits them to live with their owners in rental housing and the Air Carrier Access Act permits them to accompany their owners in the passenger compartment of aircraft.
Under the ADA, businesses are permitted to deny access to service dogs that are not behaving properly. They may also be excluded if the presence of the animal constitutes a fundamental alteration of the business or poses a direct threat. Persons with service dogs are not required to pay any additional fees on account of the service dog, though the owner is responsible for any damages caused by the dog.
Service dogs may wear special vests, badges, or ID tags, but they are not a requirement of the ADA.
In New York, the New York City Human Rights Law administered by the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) provides further parallel protection with regard to violations in this regard by landlords and management of co-ops and condominiums, despite a building's policy of no-pets at all or no-pets in certain locations. Furthermore, the City of New York states that:
"All service dogs in New York City must have a valid dog license issued by the City's Department of Health. You may also request ... a tag that identifies your dog as a service dog. The tag is optional and businesses open to the public, including restaurants, must allow access to a service dog whether or not the dog is wearing a service tag. You must meet certain requirements to obtain the tag. Businesses may not demand any proof of disability or certification of the animal to allow a person to access the business with their service animal."
In 2009, New York City paid a 65-year-old woman $10,000 to settle a federal lawsuit against it that it had violated the ADA by denying the woman with her service dog access to transportation with the dog. Two New York City policemen had given her a ticket for bringing her dog into a subway station.
In 2013, a Brooklyn Federal Court judge ordered the MTA to pay a 70-year-old Manhattan woman $150,000 to settle a lawsuit over her service animal. The judge ruled that the MTA had violated the ADA when its drivers, motormen, and conductors denied the woman access to transportation with her dog, or improperly demanded to see its papers.
In May 2014, federal United States District Court Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr., held that when a condominium association did not allow a condo resident to keep a service dog, because that violated the condo's rules, the condo's behavior was "absurd" and "unreasonable". The condominium settled with the condo resident for $300,000.
In the year ending June 30, 2014, there 1,939 lawsuits in the United States for ADA violations, up 55% from the previous year.
In December 2014, weighing in in a federal lawsuit in San Francisco against Uber for it not allowing riders to take service dogs in Uber cars, the US Justice Department said that Uber was required to do so under the ADA.
In March 2015, a San Antonio jury awarded a service dog owner $29,000 after finding that his employer, a Schlumberger Ltd. subsidiary, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The employer had denied the dog owner's request that he bring his service dog to work.
People who have service animals are permitted to deduct, as part of medical expenses if medical expenses are deducted, the expenses related to buying, training, and maintaining the service dog or other animal. This includes expenses for food, grooming, and veterinary care. It is limited to service animals for people with visual impairments, hearing impairments, or another physical disability.
In the year 2002, the Service Dogs Access Law was established in the country of Japan. In the last 15 years, the use of service dogs in Japan has increased, but this only happened after the establishment of the Service Dogs Access Law.
By definition, a service dog is a dog that performs a task that mitigates a disability of the dog's owner. Since each person experiences a disability differently and therefore has different needs for assistance, each dog is to some extent custom-trained for the individual it will help.
Program-trained dogs vs. owner-trained dogs
Service dog puppies may be fostered by programs to private families to be reared until they are old enough for advanced training.
A growing number of people choose to train their own service dogs. This can be because existing programs do not answer their needs. It can also be because the disabled person wants to experience the dog's puppyhood, or because he or she already has a pet dog when the need for a service dog arises. This is permitted in some countries, such as the U.S.
For a person with the skill to train their own service dog, this option can make dogs of specific breeds available that would not be available through a program, and allows for greater customization of training. For a handler used to a certain set of command words, this can be a very useful option.
A service dog can learn many tasks to assist the owner who might be experiencing sudden flare up symptoms, side effects of medications, or be in a situation in which outside help is needed.
List of tasks
- Bringing medication to alleviate symptoms
- Medication reminder at a certain time of day
- Bring a beverage so the patient can swallow the medication
- Bring the emergency phone during a crisis
- Provide balance assistance on stairs
- Assist person to rise and steady themselves
- Respond to smoke alarm if partner is unresponsive
- Backpacking medical related supplies or information
- Provide tactile stimulation to disrupt an emotional overload
- Wake up human partner for work or school
- Lighting up dark rooms
- Keep suspicious strangers away
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