There are countless reasons dogs are known as man’s best friend. Here at Schulze Law we are animal lovers with a huge sweet spot for our beloved team mascot, Brady! Dogs are truly a source of loyalty, friendship and support to their human owner. They are like family and every animal enthusiast understands the special bond, deep connection and unconditional love that exists between a pet and their human. To the animal lovers of the world, it is a relationship we can’t imagine life without.
Pets bring so much happiness and joy into our lives. They make us smile and laugh, comfort us when we’re sad or sick, and are always there for us no matter what. All these traits and characteristics make dogs the perfect companion and friend. These same attributes also make dogs excellent service and emotional support animals.
Many people are aware that dogs have a history of providing service to those with sight issues or blindness, and that more and more dogs are being trained to provide support to those suffering from health conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Dogs are specifically trained to help people who have disabilities, such as visual impairment, hearing impairments, (such as post-traumatic stress disorder), seizure disorder, mobility impairment, and diabetes. But what many people may not realize is just how many services therapy and companion dogs are providing for people with various kinds of disabilities, including both physical and mental in nature.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the definition of a Service Animal is any dog which is specifically trained to perform tasks for a disabled individual that they would otherwise have difficulty completing on their own due to disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Many people are surprised to learn there are over a dozen different specializations for Service Dogs. There are Diabetic Alert Dogs, Severe Allergy Alert dogs, Visual Assistance Dogs, Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, Wheelchair Assistance Dogs, Psychiatric Service Dogs, Brace/Mobility Support Dogs, Medical Alert Dogs, Seizure Assistance Dogs and more (https://www.servicedogregistration.org). One thing is clear, dogs are capable of so much!
Although people love their service dogs and often consider them family members, these animals have special rights in the eyes of the government that extend beyond the nature of a pet. We’re taking a closer look at service and emotional support animals and the laws surrounding them.
A service animal is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and is a dog that fundamentally aids in a disabled person’s daily life. This may include activities such as movement (walking or wheelchair guidance), reminding someone with a mental disability to take his or her medication, navigation for people who are hearing- and visually impaired, calm an individual who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, even dial 911 in the event of an emergency and alerting someone for help by barking when an owner has a seizure.
Similarly, there are emotional support animals or comfort animals that are beneficial in helping people function in their day to day living. While Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. These support animals provide affection, companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder/mood disorder, panic attacks, fear/phobias, and other psychological and emotional conditions, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. An emotional support dog is not required to perform any specific tasks for a disability like service dogs are. Rather they are meant for emotional stability and unconditional love.
Although service dogs and emotional support animals have similarities, there are some difference and variances in the legalities. For example, according to Mass.gov, under federal and state law, only dogs (and in some cases miniature horses) are recognized as service animals that can accompany people with disabilities in public places. But, there are no restrictions on the species that can be an assistance animal in housing. Therefore, while an animal other than a dog, such as a cat, is not recognized as a service animal, it may still serve as an assistance to a person with a disability in the housing context. Neither service dogs or assistance animals may be restricted by breed, size, or weight. Generally, municipal ordinances that prohibit specific breeds of dogs may not be applied to service dogs or assistance animals. Similarly, while a housing provider may restrict the breed, size, or type of pet a resident may keep in his or her home, exceptions must be made when the animal is needed due to a disability.
Information and Laws on Service Dogs
According to Mass.gov, service dogs are protected under federal law. The Federal law allows for a broader definition of service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Massachusetts Service Animal Law limits the definition of service animal to a dog that accompanies an individual with a sensory and or physical disability. Massachusetts law is more limited than the ADA, but public accommodations in Massachusetts must comply with both state and federal law. Both laws obligate state and local governments and any places that are open to the public to permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities anywhere members of the public can go.
Identification: Service dogs are commonly identified by wearing a service dog vest or tag, letting the public know that it is a service dog. This helps minimize their handlers having to explain everywhere that they go that their dog is a service dog.
Rules and Public Knowledge: 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. The ADA and Massachusetts law prohibit public accommodations from charging a special admission fee or requiring you to pay any other extra cost to have your service animal with you. Under the ADA, your service animal can be excluded from a public accommodation if it poses a direct threat to health and safety.
Housing: Both the federal Fair Housing Act and Massachusetts law prohibit discrimination in rental housing accommodations against those who use service animals. The law gives the right to live with 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 and they may not require you to submit any pet deposits or fees for your service dog. In Massachusetts, the housing discrimination law specifically references only dog guides used by people who are blind or deaf. However, the law also requires landlords and other housing entities to make reasonable accommodations to allow those with disabilities to use housing premises. Similarly, 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.
Flying: 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.
Information and Laws on Emotional Support Dogs
According to The U.S Dog Registry, Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), an individual who meets the proper criteria is entitled to an emotional support dog to assist them with their life. The FHAA protects individuals by allowing their emotional support dog to live with them (even when there are no pet policies in place). The ACAA protects individuals by allowing the emotional support dog to fly with them in the cabin of an airplane (without having to pay any additional fees). Any dog can be an emotional support dog, and emotional support dogs do not have to be professionally-trained.
Emotional Support Animals are not considered service animals under the ADA or the Massachusetts law regarding service animals. This means a ESAs are not permitted to go anywhere the public can go under the definition of “service animal.” However, places that are open to the public and covered under these laws still have an obligation to consider modifying their policies when necessary to ensure equal access to a person with a disability
Medical Recommendation: It is required to have a letter from a doctor or mental health professional recommending an emotional support dog for the condition. You may be asked to present this letter by airline staff when flying or by your landlord when renting a home.
Identification: Emotional support dogs are often identified by wearing an emotional support dog vest or tag, letting the public know that it is an emotional support dog; otherwise, their handlers will find themselves having to explain that their dog is an emotional support dog.
Housing: The Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) gives individuals the right to live with their emotional support dog regardless of any building or residences with a no-pet policy. Building managers or landlords may not refuse your emotional support dog. You are required to have a current (within the past year) letter from a doctor or mental health professional recommending that you have an emotional support dog for your condition.
Flying: The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows emotional support dogs on airplanes when individuals with emotional support dogs are traveling. A written note from a doctor or mental health professional is required by the airlines that is not more than one year old.
Dogs and service animals are truly incredible and level of care and assistance they can provide is remarkable. Please visit the USA Service Dog Registration site for more information.
If you have any questions regarding service dogs or emotional support animals, please contact Schulze Law. We can help you understand your rights and protect you for any unfair treatment.