A while back I mentioned that the US Department of Justice was updating its definition of service animal. Well, after lots of deliberation and consideration, they have settled on a definition. I saw this a couple of days ago, but Jill sent it to me again, and nudged me into blogging about it. Sorry that link isn’t the best one, but you will find the definition under the heading that reads “§ 35.136 Service animals”
There was a lot of room for things to go very badly, but I think they did a pretty good job. There are three things that make me jump for joy about this wording.
First, all that matters is that the dog is trained to do specific tasks. It doesn’t matter who trained it. This means that self-trained service dogs won’t be excluded just because they weren’t trained by a school. But on the other hand, the issue of the dog being under control and not causing problems is addressed, so woohoo!
Second, emotional support animals are not covered! Yes! Yes! Yes! This means that dogs who only serve to make the person *feel* better don’t have the right to go everywhere with them. Often these pooches have no socialization or training whatsoever, and turn out to be a danger to people and legitimate service animals alike.
And third, this will spell the end of every animal under the sun being claimed to be a service animal. No more service birds, ferrets, snakes, full-sized horses, or monkeys. That whole anything can be performing a service thing was a dangerous, dangerous road. A service animal is a dog. It’s a dog and that’s it.
Except, kinda, maybe if it’s a miniature horse. This part is the only part of the legislation that confuses the hell out of me. It says a service animal is a dog, but then there’s a whole section on miniature horses. I guess businesses have no reason to kick out a dog based on it being a dog, but they can boot a miniature horse if they don’t think their place can accommodate the animal. I guess, sorta, I think.
I understand why they did that, but I would hate to be the handler of a miniature horse. I would feel like blind people felt at the beginning when guide dogs weren’t widely-used. Everywhere you’d go, you’d have to wonder whether your miniature horse would get asked to leave. I think personally, I would find it so high-stress that I would contemplate getting a dog after my horse retired just to get the full benefits of the ADA.
There are two small parts of the law that minimally concern me. The first is the stipulation that the dog must be with the handler by harness, leash or tether unless having it be tethered or leashed is not possible for the person or does not allow the dog to do its work. Hmm. Can we define that a little better, so people couldn’t use that stipulation to just not bother to leash their service animal? I know that some dogs are really good about responding to voice or hand signals, but if they decide that na, I’d like to go say hello to that guide dog over there, the person needs a backup plan. Otherwise, all they end up doing is helplessly going “No! Stop! Stop! No!” And we all know how well that works out with pets.
The other part that concerns me isn’t so much the law itself, but the way some idiots may try to use it. It says that a service animal can get hoofed for being aggressive or for not being housebroken. For the most part, I’m happy that provision is there. People can’t bring their pets in places, say they’re service animals, and then the business has no recourse if the animal behaves badly. But what if for some crazy reason a legitimate service animal has an accident? Trix has never had an accident in a business, but that doesn’t mean she won’t have one some day. Babs had one accident in a business, but I still would have said she was housebroken. She was on antibiotics, I was inexperienced and didn’t give her a chance to relieve…so she made a deposit in the lobby of a bank. So, even if I clean it up and apologize, can I be banned from that business because they deem my dog to not be housebroken? But I guess any law can be twisted to be used out of context, so I can’t really blame the law for this one.
Over all, I’d say they did a pretty good job. I hope this definition influences other definitions so that things get tightened up and other places don’t have to go through nearly as much trial and error.