Animal Health Foundation Blog

Archive for the ‘Emotional Support Animals’ Category

To spot a true service dog, check its behavior – not its vest

Friday, May 18th, 2018

    • From the YakimaHerald.com
    • Jim Camden – Spokesman-Review

Apr 6, 2018

service dog
Sheryl Womble embraces Nia, her German Shepherd service dog, after exercising near their home on Wednesday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – For the past 20 years, service dogs have helped Sheryl Womble with day-to-day tasks like opening doors and picking things up off the floor, and even taking off her coat and gloves.

So when a dog wearing a “service animal” vest growled and lunged at her dog during a crowded community gathering several years ago, she knew the menacing dog was not a trained service animal. Womble, a quadriplegic, did the only thing she could.

She maneuvered her wheelchair to block the attacking dog. She got bit.

To be a real service dog takes extensive training, at least a year and sometimes longer depending on what the dog will be doing to help its owner.

A new Washington law that allows businesses to question whether the animal accompanying a customer is a true service animal may provide some clarity and keep some people from trying to pass off their untrained pet, Womble and others said.

“It might help a little,” said Debbie Wing of LynnDee’s Grooming and Dog Training Center. “It might scare some people off” from trying to pass off their pet as a service animal just because they want to bring it into a store or restaurant, or take it with them on a bus or plane.

The law, which was signed late last month by Gov. Jay Inslee and takes effect Jan. 1, makes it a civil infraction with a penalty of as much as $500 to falsely claim an animal is a service animal in a “place of public accommodation.”

But the ADA does not set up a certification program for service animals, Wing said, so it’s easy for a person to make that claim and hard for a business to challenge it. Under the new law, a business employee or law enforcement officer can ask the owner two questions if they suspect a dog that is causing a disturbance isn’t a true service animal: Is the animal required because of a disability? What tasks is the animal trained to perform?

Deputy Mark Gregory, a spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, said the new law could provide some clarity for officers responding to complaints that come in from time to time. Whether it will result in more calls, or fewer, is hard to predict, but the department will sit down with legal advisers and human rights advocates to form a policy before briefing deputies on procedures, he said.

“This always has been a case of you don’t want to turn around and infringe on someone’s rights who is disabled and needs that assistance,” Gregory said. “As with any other law, we’re going to have to use common sense.”

Usually, law enforcement is called when a dog or another animal is creating a nuisance or disturbance in a store or a restaurant and the owner refuses to leave, claiming it’s a service animal.

But the size or breed of a dog is not an indicator, she added. A 6-foot man who is diabetic could have a Chihuahua for a service animal, trained to detect by smell when he needs to take his insulin.

Also not an indicator: a vest on the dog or a badge the owner is wearing that says service animal. Those are available online, for a price, by filling out a form. “It’s a racket,” Wing said.

Buying a trained dog can cost thousands of dollars and require years on a waiting list, she said.

Training a service animal also takes time and money. Womble said owners start with basic obedience, and work toward specific tasks they need the dog to perform. They keep a log of training and tasks accomplished, and the instructors used. They refresh their training every year or so.

“You never stop working your dog,” she said.

Most people quit, because they either don’t have the time or money, or both. And really all they want is to take their pet with them somewhere, she said.

The law does not cover therapy dogs, which have separate training to go into schools, hospitals or other facilities to help people. Nor does it cover comfort or emotional support animals, terms that some people use for a wide variety of pets they might claim they need to calm their nerves.

Gregory wonders if that might be something the Legislature will have to consider in the future, because some returning veterans and others with post-traumatic stress disorder do have a legitimate need for a therapy animal to help them cope with severe anxiety they might experience in aspects of daily life.

PTSD isn’t covered under the ADA, so they aren’t included in the state law, he said.

An officer who believes an owner is falsely claiming their disruptive dog is a service animal will be able to write a ticket for a civil infraction. The owner can contest the ticket and possible fine of $500 in court by presenting proof that the dog is a service animal.

Judges familiar with the ADA should know not to accept a simple certificate from some website, Womble said. They should ask to see the owner’s log with the times, dates and places where the training took place, and the instructors who provided it.

If the law cuts down on incidents with untrained dogs, there may be an added benefit to real service animals and their owners, who sometimes get critical looks or comments from people, Wing said.

Rep. Mike Steele, R-Chelan, the sponsor of the legislation, said the goal of the law is to balance the rights of disabled people to have the assistance they need with the rights of the rest of the public to be safe from misbehaving and possibly aggressive dogs. It’s designed to give businesses and police some options when there’s a problem.

“As long as (a dog) is not misbehaving and being disruptive, you’re not going to have a problem,” Steele said. “No one’s going to come after your dog if it’s by your side, behaving itself.”

Service, Emotional Support and Therapy Animals

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

  From the AVMA

Animals can play a very important role assisting people with disabilities and as part of therapeutic activities. Most people are aware of the role of service animals, such as guide dogs, but other types of assistance animals may be less familiar.

A more recently developed legal category of assistance animals is the emotional support animal (ESA). These are animals that provide companionship and emotional support for people diagnosed with a psychological disorder. They are documented by a letter from a human health professional, which legally guarantees that they may live with their handler and accompany them on aircraft, exempt from the fees that would be charged for a companion animal.

Some people misrepresent their animals as assistance animals in order to bring them to places where pets are not allowed, to avoid fees, or out of a misunderstanding of the animal’s role. It is important for veterinarians to assist their clients in correctly identifying their animals, and to provide care and advice consistent with the animal’s role.

The AVMA recognizes and supports the federal definition of service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act; the federal regulations for emotional support animals under  the Fair Housing Act and Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and provides guidelines related to animal-assisted interventions. At its July 2017 meeting, the AVMA House of Delegates approved a new policy on the Veterinarian’s Role in Supporting Appropriate Selection and Use of Service, Assistance and Therapy Animals​​ proposed by the Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions.

To learn more about assistance animals please refer to the newly released AVMA report: Assistance Animals: Rights of Access and the Problem of Fraud. While fraud can be a vexing issue, it is important for veterinarians to actively support the appropriate use of assistance animals and anti-fraud initiatives   so that undue burden is not placed on people using these animals in their intended roles.

If you are an AVMA member and would like to provide information or suggestions to the Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions relating to assistance animals or animals used for therapeutic purposes, please email the committee at humananimalbond@avma.org.

The Legal Context For Assistance Animal Use – Definitions

Classification​ ​Definition ​As Defined By
​Assistance Animal ​“Any animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability,” as defined by the ADA.4 “Individuals with a disability may be entitled to keep an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation in housing facilities that otherwise impose restrictions or prohibitions on animals. In order to qualify for such an accommodation, the assistance animal must be necessary to afford the individual an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling or to participate in the housing service or program. Further, there must be a relationship, or nexus, between the individual’s disability and the assistance the animal provides. If these requirements are met, a housing facility, program or service must permit the assistance animal as an accommodation, unless it can demonstrate that allowing the assistance animal would impose an undue financial or administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing program or services.” ​U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (FHEO-2013-01)
​Service Animal ​“Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.” Miniature horses have been added as a specific provision to the ADA. The miniature horse must be housebroken, under the handler’s control, can be accommodated for by the facility, and will not compromise safety regulations. ​Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (Section 35.136)
​Any animal that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a qualified person with a disability; or any animal shown by documentation to be necessary for the emotional well-being of a passenger… Psychiatric service animals are recognized as service animals, but are considered to be emotional support animals and, therefore, subject to the applicable regulatory requirements, i.e. documentation. ​Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and CFR Part 382
​Emotional Support Animal ​An emotional support animal (ESA) may be an animal of any species, the use of which is supported by a qualified physician, psychiatrist or other mental health professional based upon a disability-related need. An ESA does not have to be trained to perform any particular task. ESAs do not qualify as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but they may be permitted as reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities under the Fair Housing Act. The Air Carrier Access Act provides specific allowances for ESAs traveling on airlines, though documentation may need to be provided. ​Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. Part 3604) and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and C.F.R. Part 382.117
​Therapy Animal ​A therapy animal is a type of animal-assisted intervention in which there is a “goal directed intervention in which an animal meeting specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. Animal-assisted therapy is provided in a variety of settings, and may be group or individual in nature.” ​Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and CFR Part 382; AVMA Animal-Assisted Interventions: Definitions

 

​Find additional information, including reference citations, in Assistance Animals: Rights of Access and the Problem of Fraud(PDF).