Help Define "Service Animal"

Gees! There’s not much time to respond. I just got this email, and the deadline for public comments is Monday! Ok ok ok, up on the blog she goes! I know I’m not American, but plenty of people who read this thing live in the States, so here it is.

Apparently, the definition of service animal under the ADA is up for review. The IAADP is trying to cut back on the number of false service dogs running around, as well as allow for dogs that help people with psychiatric disabilities. They are also trying to eliminate some of the confusion that’s happening around some of the wording. There is a long email ahead. If you want to help by making some comments, even if the comments you want to make aren’t mentioned in the email, this email gives you all the instructions. I hope this helps someone.

Dear friend of the assistance dog movement,
     As a spokesperson for the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, I need your help on a matter of critical importance to the assistance dog movement in the United States.

As you may have read in Partners Forum, for seven years as IAADP’s representative, I lobbied the U.S. Department of Justice with colleagues in the Coalition of Assistance Dog Organizations (CADO), seeking a better definition of a Service Animal.  We knew the ADA regulations were up for review.  We wanted to end the misinterpretations and abuses of the old service animal definition.  We also sought recognition for the existence of service dogs trained to perform tasks to assist people with mental as well as physical disabilities.

This summer the Department of Justice proposed their new definition and is seeking input from the public.  Sources at the DOJ tell us this Public Comment phase is a crucial element in developing the Final Definition.

It is “a Numbers Game.”  We need to show officials at the DOJ through public comments that MORE people are in favor of what we want, as opposed to what someone else may want.

After reading all the comments submitted to date, I realized we urgently need favorable comments on two issues in particular, to offset the comments of people who don’t want any changes to the old definition.   The first and most important issue is our recommendation to eliminate the phrase “do work” and continue to uphold “task training” as the defining factor in qualifying an animal to be a service animal, something the DOJ has been doing since 2002 in their highly publicized interpretative guidance document, the “ADA Business Brief : Service Animals.”  The second issue is our recommendation to remove the task example “minimal protection” from the definition due to the problems it has caused.  We think fifteen years of misinterpretation and abuses due to the confusion over these phrases is enough!  We only have a few more days till the Public Comment period closes on August 18th.   You can do a lot to help IAADP turn the tide.  It will only take you a few minutes.

If you want to submit a comment with minimal effort, please look at the Sample Comment in this email below my signature.  You can just copy and paste it into the General Comment box if desired, or submit whatever part of it you feel you can support.

However, it would carry a lot more weight if you personalize your comment.  Please consider adding a sentence or two at the beginning so the DOJ knows it comes from an assistance dog partner or family member or friend of someone with a task trained guide, hearing or service dog.  ( Example: I have a service dog who has greatly improved my quality of life by providing balance support and performing other trained tasks to assist me in a medical crisis.)
(Example: I’m the mother of a boy with autism whose specially trained service dog performs some wonderful tasks to increase his safety and independence.)

Instructions on how to submit your Public comment follows the Sample Comment.  It is very easy to do! 

Those who prefer to have more information on the subject before commenting are welcome to go to
and go to the Emergency Call to Action box and read all the information I prepared for visitors. 

If you missed IAADP’s first announcement of the public comment period a few weeks ago and want to read the new proposed Service Animal definition and IAADP’s public comment or wish to read CADO’s public comment, I will copy them into this email at the very bottom. 

       It would mean the world to IAADP and the assistance dog movement if you’d take a few minutes to submit a public comment before it is too late.  If you did not comment on these two subjects before, you can submit another comment. 

most appreciatively,
IAADP chairperson / editor 


I’m writing to let you know that I support IAADP and CADO’s position on the following: 

Please eliminate the ambiguous phrase “DO WORK” from the new Definition to prevent years of misinterpretation.  Continue to educate the public that the legal difference between a pet and a service animal is that service animals must be individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a disabled individual, as you have been doing in the “ADA Business Brief :Service Animals” since 2002. 

In response to Question Nine, please delete the word “protection” from the definition, as the word means “aggression training” in the dog training industry. Fifteen years of misinterpretation of the task example “minimal protection” should be enough. 

The Department’s effort to clarify the ADA grants public access to anyone with a disabling mental or physical impairment working with a service animal having the required training is greatly appreciated. 


1.   Click on this Link.
2.   Fill out the Form with your name and address.
3.   Write your comment in the General Comments Box
4.    Scroll to the bottom of the webpage and click on the button that says:   NEXT
5.    This next page lets you review your comment. If you like it, scroll down and click on SUBMIT
       Now you are done! 

Your support at this time for our efforts to prevent future misinterpretations of the ADA service animal definition would be a wonderful contribution to the assistance dog movement.  Thank you for considering this request. 

New Proposed Service Animal Definition
Subpart A-General
Service animal means any dog or other common domestic animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited
to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, assisting an individual during a seizure, retrieving medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and assisting individuals, including those with cognitive
disabilities, with navigation.  The term service animal includes individually trained animals that do work or perform tasks for the benefit of individuals with disabilities, including
psychiatric, cognitive, and mental disabilities.  The term service animal does not include wild animals (including nonhuman primates born in captivity), reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including any breed of horse, miniature horse, pony, pig, or goat), ferrets, amphibians, and rodents.  Animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals.


IAADP’s Public Comment on the Department of Justice 2008 NPRM
Re: Revision of the ADA Service Animal Definition 

Docket ID: DOJ-CRT-2008-0015
The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) is a cross-disability consumer advocacy organization with more than 2,000 members working with guide, hearing and service dogs. Its mission is to foster the assistance dog movement through education, advocacy and peer support. 

We commend the Department of Justice for including in its revised proposed definition of service animal a number of new and
essential elements, particularly emphasis on maintaining control of the service animal in public settings and the requirement of housebreaking.  As an organization committed to fostering the assistance dog movement, IAADP appreciates the Department of Justice’s attempt to clarify the definition of service animal for the general population, public accommodation representatives and those working with service animals.  However, IAADP believes certain issues need further clarification before being established as final rules. 

In response to the NPRM published in the Federal Register on June 17th, IAADP, based on the rationale discussed below, encourages the Department of Justice to: 

1.  Eliminate the phrase “providing minimal protection” from the definition of service animal; 

2.   Eliminate the phrase “do work” from the definition because it is redundant and the example of work given in the NPRM, grounding, undermines the Department’s goal of maintaining a clear distinction between specially trained service animals and those animals whose mere presence can provide emotional support, companionship or therapeutic benefits. 

3.   Limit the use of other species only to animals who can be trained to meet the same standards for behavior and training that assistance dogs must meet to qualify for public access. 

4.   Avoid placing a size or weight limit on common domestic animals such as assistance dogs. 

 According to the NPRM, widespread misinterpretation of the minimal protection language has been a problem for the last 15 years. The DOJ notes “Despite the Department’s best efforts, the minimal protection language appears to have been misinterpreted.” By continuing the use of this language, nothing will change. Since the mission of the new rules is to clarify and avoid confusion, maintenance of this phrase undermines this goal. 

Minimal protection has been used by some trainers and disabled partners to justify attack and aggression training for what are claimed to be service animals.  Although the Department does not agree with this interpretation, continuing to use the minimal protection phrase will foster the idea that attack and aggressive behavior are acceptable tasks performed by assistance dogs. 

The justification for including minimal protection in the original definition was to guarantee the rights of those with seizure disorders to train their service dogs for seizure response and alert tasks.  Since the new definition proposed by the Department includes assisting an individual during a seizure, the minimal protection language is redundant and not needed.  In addition, a major function of service dogs is to help or get help not to prevent help from being given. Allowing “minimal
protection” is the antithesis of what a service dog is trained to do.  Therefore, in response to Question Nine, IAADP believes that maintaining the “providing minimal protection” clause is counterproductive to the goal of the current NPRM. 

IAADP applauds DOJ’s categorical statement: “Animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals.” 

IAADP believes it is imperative to make it clear that individuals with disabilities whose pets or companion animals have not been trained to perform tasks directly related to their disability do
not qualify as service animals.  These are usually referred to as emotional support or comfort dogs when associated with a person with a psychiatric, cognitive or mental disability.  Since individuals with psychiatric disabilities constitute the largest single category of Americans with disabilities, the distinction
between task training to mitigate a disability on the one hand, and mere presence on the other should be clear and consistently supported by the Department. 

IAADP’S concern is with the section in the NPRM that reads:
“In contrast, the phrase ‘do work’ is slightly broader than ‘perform tasks’, and adds meaning to the definition.” By
definition all work is task defined thus to say “do work” is redundant and not needed.
Another concern is the example given of a psychiatric service dog helping some individuals with dissociative identity disorder to remain grounded in time or place.  By including grounding as work performed by a psychiatric service dog, the Department is providing the basis for an individual with a psychiatric disability to claim the mere presence of a dog, which helps ground him/her, meets the DOJ definition of a service animal. This reference contradicts the strong and clear statement that emotional support, companion or comfort animals do not meet the Department’s definition of a service animal. It also contradicts the basic premise that a service animal performs a task to mitigate a disability.  If included, this section will continue to be a source of confusion to the public, businesses and assistance dog partners.  IAADP believes the reference to grounding should be eliminated, as well as the phrase “do work”.

In response to Question Ten, IAADP commends the Department for recognizing the concerns expressed by many of our constituents about the use of reptiles  and other species that cannot be reliably housebroken, task trained or, which by their very nature, pose a threat to public safety.  Our goal is to promote the responsible use of access rights and prevent the erosion of societal tolerance for service animal teams in places of public accommodation.

In response to Question 11 concerning the size and weight of common domestic animals, IAADP endorses the current Department policy.  We believe it is not the role of the government to limit disabled people’s choice of what would be an effective assistance dog for them. 

The size of a service animal is a matter of individual choice/necessity and may be related to the nature of the disability.  Limiting size and weight would discriminate against disabled individuals who because of their height or weight and/or
the severity of their mobility impairment need to work with very large powerful dogs on strenuous tasks such as providing stability while walking, helping transfer in and out of chairs, getting up after a fall or pulling a wheelchair. IAADP recommends not placing limits on the size or weight of service animals.
With the incorporation of IAADP’s recommendations in the new definitions, we feel that the current confusion and misinterpretations will be greatly mitigated to everyone’s

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the NPRM. 

Ed Eames, Ph.D., President
International Association of Assistance Dog Partners
P. O. Box 1326
Sterling Heights, Michigan 48311
Phone:  586-826-3938
July 30, 2008
U.S. Department of Justice
Disability Rights Section,
Civil Rights Division
Washington DC
Docket ID: DOJ-CRT-2008-0015
RE:   ADA Service Animal Definition and Regulations 

        Founded in 2001, the Coalition of Assistance Dog Organizations brings together the consumer advocacy organizations representing individuals with disabilities who work with guide, hearing and service dogs and two umbrella organizations for the non profit programs which train canine assistants in the USA.  Guide Dog Users, Inc. has over 1000 blind and visually impaired members partnered with guide dogs.  The International Association of Assistance
Dog Partners has over 2000 disabled members whose guide, hearing and service dogs are owner trained, privately trained or program trained to perform tasks to mitigate the effects of their disabilities.  The Council of US Dog Guide Schools represents ten schools which specialize in the breeding and training of guide dogs. Assistance Dogs International represents more than 100 not for profit programs which train assistance dogs for children and adults with physical and mental disabilities.  As a coalition, CADO adopts and promotes its positions through seeking input from its diverse membership and by providing a platform for many like minded individuals to speak with one voice when this is necessary to achieve consensus and change.

CADO members are united in the desire to preserve the public access rights granted by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) for the next generation. Collectively we remain deeply concerned about the abuses of the ADA taking place due to accidental or intentional misinterpretation of the original Service Animal definition.
       After careful review of the Notice of Proposed Rule Making issued June 17, 2008, CADO commends the Disability Rights section in the Civil Rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice for a number of the changes in wording that have been proposed and for the unequivocal statement that makes clearer the fact that emotional support animals and companion animals are not service animals. We support the Department’s decision to incorporate policies from its 1996 and 2002 interpretative guidance documents into the ADA regulation ( 28 CFR 36.302c) which will give these policies greater standing legally as well as educationally.  We welcome the addition of the housebreaking requirement and the emphasis on keeping an animal under control in the newly proposed definition of a service animal.   However we believe the effort to end the misinterpretations of the definition of a service animal falls short of achieving the intended goal in several areas.  Below, CADO will address the three questions posed in the NPRM pertaining to service animals as well as another important issue we strongly encourage the DOJ to reconsider, the retention of “Do Work” in the proposed new definition because of the example of it that was given in the NPRM.

QUESTION NINE:  Should the Department clarify the phrase “providing minimal protection” in the definition or remove it?
       CADO is strongly opposed to the retention of the words “minimal protection” or any mention of “protection.” Protection language is often incorrectly interpreted by individuals and training programs alike as a license to train aggression related protection behaviors.

In the NPRM the DOJ itself makes the point that despite its best efforts, the phrase continues to be misinterpreted.  While the Department may not condone attack or aggression  training, it will certainly continue until the word “protection” is removed from the definition.  This word has very specific meaning within the dog training industry.  It is the word which means aggression training.

In the NPRM, the Department said it tried to clarify “minimal protection” in 2002  with the example “alerting and protecting a person having a seizure,” in its interpretative guidance document, “Business Brief; Service Animals.”  Unfortunately this clarification has also been misinterpreted as sanctioning protection training. CADO believes the new task example cited in the proposed Definition, “assistance during a seizure” is a much more accurate description of tasks required to accomplish the goal of ensuring the inclusion of people who have a disabling seizure disorder.  This new task example, “assistance during a seizure,” in addition to other new tasks in the proposed definition , namely retrieving medicine or the telephone, providing physical support to assist with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and assisting individuals, including those with cognitive disabilities, with navigation is clear and concise.  Collectively these new task examples have made the old task example, “minimal protection and rescue work” unnecessary.

In conclusion, CADO respectfully requests that the Department give further consideration to eliminating this misleading language in the service animal definition.  Fifteen years of confusion, debates and ongoing misinterpretation of the “minimal protection,” language is more than enough. It is time to remove this phrase and end the confusion and damage that it creates.

QUESTION TEN:  Should the Department eliminate certain species from the definition of “service animal”? If so, please provide comment on the Department’s use of the phrase “common domestic animal” and on its choice of which types of animals to exclude.

CADO sincerely thanks the DOJ for responding to the many issues raised concerning the use of species which may pose a threat to public safety or which can’t be housebroken or task trained.  We believe the continuing use of such species will have an eroding impact on societal tolerance for service animal teams in public places.
      CADO does not oppose the use of another species if, and only if, the animal can meet the same or equivalent standards for behavior and training that assistance dogs must meet to qualify for public access.  This would represent a far less discriminatory approach. We request that the DOJ consider adopting CADO’s 2005 Minimum Behavior and Training Standards for all service animals, or that similar guidelines be drafted. [ see Appendix A ] 

QUESTION ELEVEN:  Should the Department impose a size or weight limitation for common domestic animals, even if the animal satisfies the “common domestic animal” prong of the proposed definition?

CADO supports the Department’s current policy of not imposing a weight or size limit on service animals.

CADO believes a size or weight limit on common domestic animals such as assistance dogs would unfairly discriminate against individuals whose height, weight and / or the severity of their mobility impairment necessitates a match with an assistance dog  of sufficient size and strength to prevent falls and perform other useful tasks without injury to the dog. 


      We are pleased to see that the Department was receptive to CADO’s educational efforts concerning individuals with psychiatric disabilities, autism and other mental impairments.  It is our position that such individuals may significantly benefit from task trained service dogs and should not be lumped in with those who wrongfully claim that the ADA sanctions public access for them and their non task trained pets. CADO member programs have trained assistance dogs for individuals disabled by autism, Downs Syndrome, traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer’s Disease, other cognitive issues and for an increasing number of persons with psychiatric disabilities. CADO indicated this in our 2007 meeting with the DOJ staff.
       On behalf of the assistance dog movement, CADO hoped to create a better definition of service animals, one that would maintain a clear distinction between those animals which are individually trained to perform tasks to mitigate the effects of a disabling mental or physical condition and any animal whose mere presence or companionship provides emotional support or some other therapeutic physical health or mental health benefit.  We hoped for a new definition that would end the confusion in the media, disabled community and the public and private sectors as to what qualifies an animal for the legal status of a service animal.

While there is much that is good about the proposed definition in the NPRM, a serious flaw has come to our attention.  It concerns the Department’s explanation titled “Task Emphasis” in the NPRM. The content is so contradictory to the Department’s own interpretative guidance document, “Business Brief : Service Animals” from 2002 and to the intent of the proposed definition, which is to eliminate misunderstandings on what qualifies an animal to be a service animal, CADO must oppose the retention of the phrase “do work.”

We refer to the statements:  Tasks are by their nature physical, so the Department does not believe that such a change [ to physical tasks in the definition ] is warranted. In contrast, the phrase “do work” is slightly broader than “perform tasks” and adds meaning to the definition.  For example, a psychiatric service dog can help some individuals with dissociative identity disorder to remain grounded in time or place.  As one service dog user stated, in some cases “critical forms of assistance can’t be construed as physical tasks,” noting that manifestations of brain based disabilities such as psychiatric disorders and autism are as varied as their physical counterparts.

This discussion, giving grounding as the example of “do work” followed by the assertion that “in some cases, critical forms of assistance can’t be construed as physical tasks,” leads the reader to conclude that work is a form of assistance that is NOT a physical task.  It suggests an animal will qualify as a service animal if a mentally disabled owner says the dog’s presence or companionship helps to keep him or her grounded in time or place.
        CADO is aware that for years, pet owners with psychiatric impairments have used the “my pet keeps me grounded” rationale for bringing their non task trained animal into places of public accommodation.
        CADO is deeply concerned that this “do work” example will be cited in the future as proof that task training is unnecessary for animals belonging to people with a psychiatric, cognitive or mental disability.  Certainly the idea that work can be a non physical form of assistance and not a task will further confuse the distinction between service animals and pets.

Therefore, in the interest of eliminating further confusion and abuse, CADO urges the Department to reconsider this “do work” issue.   We respectfully point out the fact that the Department’s own interpretative guidance in 2002 excluded the phrase “do work” from the way it defined a service animal.  The updated guidance document reads:
“Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities, such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure or performing other special tasks.  Service animals are working animals, not pets.”
       The 2002 interpretative guidance on the ADA goes on to say: “Businesses may ask if an animal is a service animal or what tasks the animal has been trained to perform, but cannot require special ID cards…..etc.”
       For six years, the Department’s own emphasis on the fact that Task Training is fundamental to the definition of a service animal in the Business Brief has been relied on by the disabled community, businesses, colleges and other interested parties.   The DOJ has educated the public and businesses that the performance of tasks is the crucial distinction between specially trained service animals and other animals, whatever their label.

CADO posits that the “do work” phrase in the original definition had nothing to do with a non physical form of assistance.  Rather, it merely reflected the fact it was customary to discuss the trained behaviors performed on command or cue by guide dogs as “guide dog work.”  Guide dog work is a series of trained tasks performed as needed, such as leading a blind person around obstacles, halting to indicate changes in elevation like a curb, avoiding traffic in the team’s path, finding the location of a building’s exit and finding an empty seat in a classroom or on a bus.  These are trained tasks and stand in sharp contrast to the DOJ’s example of the ambiguous concept of grounding.

Since 2002, the work performed by service animals has been task defined, arguably making the retention of “do work” and its given example of grounding in the proposed new definition confusing and easily misinterpreted.  Unfortunately, due to the impression the average person receives from the NPRM discussion cited above, the phrase “do work” if defined by a term such as “grounding” will seriously undermine the Department’s profoundly essential goal of distinguishing between service animals and pets whose presence or companionship will provide emotional support, therapy, comfort, or other therapeutic benefits.  The controversy will never end.

Based on these considerations, CADO strongly recommends the elimination of “do work” in the final rule’s definition.  Failing that, we request illustrating the phrase “do work” with appropriate examples to eliminate the devastating consequences of using the ambiguous term “grounding” as an example.  If the DOJ persists in using grounding, CADO feels it will most certainly undo all the progress accomplished by the 2002 interpretative guidance document in terms of educating the public, businesses and disabled community on this issue.

CADO wishes to thank the DOJ for its efforts to help clarify the issues which have created so much confusion and misinterpretation of the original service animal definition and regulations. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to once again present ideas to the DOJ on behalf of CADO’s numerous and varied constituencies made up of individuals who are disabled and partnered with service animals. 

Joan Froling, Chairperson, International Association of Assistance Dog Partners
Becky Barnes, President, Guide Dog Users, Inc
Wells Jones, Chair of the Council of US Dog Guide Schools
Darlene Sullivan, Board Member, Assistance Dogs International, North America 

Appendix A
For over 75 years, assistance dogs have worked successfully in public and won the public’s acceptance by achieving high behavioral and training standards, which set them apart from pets and other animals. In order to assure the comfort and safety of people with disabilities AND the general public, high behavioral and training standards must apply equally to all service animals. We propose that all service animals intended for use in public, regardless of species, be required to meet the same standards required of dogs specifically trained to assist people with disabilities. We are not proposing to disallow other species from service work. Any animal that can meet the existing standards for behavior, training, cleanliness and public appropriateness may be allowed to work in public when accompanied by the person for who’s disability it was specifically trained.

These standards include: 

* Animal is clean and does not have a foul odor.
* Animal does not urinate or defecate in inappropriate locations.
* Animal shall not make unsolicited contact with members of the general public.
* Animal’s conduct does not disrupt the normal course of business.
* Animal works without unnecessary vocalization.
* Animal shows no aggression toward people or other animals.
* Animal does not solicit or steal food or other items from the general public. 

* Animal is specifically trained to perform more than one task to mitigate (lessen) the effects of its partner’s disability; said disability being any
condition as described by and covered under the ADA that substantially impairs one or more major life functions.
* Animal obeys the commands of its handler.
* Animal works calmly and quietly on a harness, leash or other tether.
* Animal has been specifically trained to perform its duties in public and is accustomed to being out in public.
* Animal must be able to lie quietly beside the handler without blocking aisles, doorways, etc.
* Animal is trained to urinate or defecate on command
* Animal stays within 24″ of its handler at all times unless the nature of a trained task requires it to be working at a greater distance.

Tired yet? I know I am. But hey, even if people don’t agree with all that stuff, at least they can still make their own feelings known. Hopefully this results in clarification, no more pets running around where they shouldn’t, and everybody who has legitimate service dogs, whether owner-trained or school-trained, getting the access they deserve.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.