What is a Service Animal?

March 2nd, 2007 by Loren

What is a Service Animal?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990), an animal is considered a “service animal” if it has been “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.”

Service animals are legally defined (Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990) as those animals that are trained to meet the disability-related needs of their handlers who have disabilities. Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. Service animals are not considered “pets.”

Also according to the ADA, a “disability” is a “mental or physical condition which substantially limits a major life activity” such as:

 

Some disabilities may not be visible, such as:

 

To be considered a service animal, the animal must be trained to perform tasks directly related to the person’s disability.

To be consistent with the legal definition in the ADA, we use the following terms:

 

While the term “service animal” is legally defined, some organizations use the term “assistance animal” or “assistance dog.”

The terminology used to label specific types of work dogs perform for people with disabilities has not been standardized. For example, a dog trained to help a person walk might be referred to by different sources as a “mobility dog”, a “walker dog”, or a “support dog.” In addition to the wide variety of terms used, many service dogs are cross-trained to perform more than one category of work (such as guide and mobility for a person who is blind and has severe arthritis) and labeling them by the work they do becomes cumbersome.

Many individuals choose to identify their service animal generically (as “service animals”, “service dogs”, “service cats,” etc.) because it identifies the roles of the animals without disclosing the nature of the persons’ disabilities, and it is consistent with the terminology of the laws that protect them.

The Difference between Service Animals, Therapy Animals, Companion Animals and “Social/therapy” Animals

Service animals are legally defined (Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990) and are trained to meet the disability-related needs of their handlers who have disabilities. Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. Service animals are not considered “pets.”

Therapy animals are not legally defined by federal law, but some states have laws defining therapy animals. They provide people with contact to animals, but are not limited to working with people who have disabilities. They are usually the personal pets of their handlers, and work with their handlers to provide services to others. Federal laws have no provisions for people to be accompanied by therapy animals in places of public accommodation that have “no pets” policies. Therapy animals usually are not service animals.

Companion animal is not legally defined, but is accepted as another term for pet.

“Social/therapy” animals likewise have no legal definition. They often are animals that did not complete service animal or service dog training due to health, disposition, trainability, or other factors, and are made available as pets for people who have disabilities. These animals might or might not meet the definition of service animals.





3 Responses to “What is a Service Animal?”

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