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What’s With all the Service Dogs?

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Have you noticed the surge of service dogs in airports, malls, and even restaurants lately?  Not too long ago, it was rare to see a dog at an airport and even then, it was usually a seeing eye dog.  Today, these dogs are everywhere as more and more people look to take “man’s best friend” with them wherever they go.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) affords service dogs and their owners a number of rights.  In fact, the ADA prohibits discrimination against disabled people with service dogs in employment, places of public accommodation and public transportation.  A “service dog” is one that is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people living with disabilities.”  Texas law uses the terms “assistance animal” and “service animal,” but both mean a “canine that is specially trained or equipped to help a person with a disability and that is used by a person with a disability.”  We generally know that service dogs protect and alert those who are deaf, guide those who are blind, and even remind someone to take prescription medication.  More and more, however, we see service dogs that calm people who suffer from anxiety attacks or post traumatic stress disorder.  A number of disabilities may qualify for service animals including multiple sclerosis, autism, epilepsy, scoliosis, allergies, asthma, arthritis and seizure disorders. 

State and federal disability laws require public facilities and common transportation carriers to allow persons with disability to be accompanied by a service dog for assistance.  Criminal penalties can be assessed against businesses who deny access to people with disabilities because of a service dog.  Housing accommodations must allow full and equal access to people with disabilities who have service dogs and may not charge an extra deposit for the presence of a service animal but are allowed to charge for damages caused by a service animal. 

In Texas, people with disabilities cannot be required to show proof of certification for their service animal.  Instead, businesses open to the public may only ask if the service animal is required because the person has a disability (the ADA prohibits asking what the disability is) and may ask what type of work the service animal is trained to perform.  One cannot ask for or require any type of identification or certification documents, nor may one ask that the dog demonstrate what it’s been trained to do.  Neither the ADA nor Texas law requires service animals to wear a vest or ID tag of any sort.  Texas laws in this regard are found in the Texas Human Resources Code. 

Under the ADA, all service dogs must be controlled or on a leash.  In other words, the service animal must be harnessed or leashed, but if leashing the animal interferes with its work or the disabled person is unable to hold onto the leash, the animal must be controlled through voice or signal.

The only time that service animals can be removed from a public facility or mode of transportation is when the service animal is out of control and the handler takes no action to control it, or if the animal is not housebroken, or if the animal’s presence poses a legitimate health or safety hazard (for example, an operating room or a school lab that has hazardous materials).   

Service dogs are vitally necessary to those people with disabilities and, as you can see, are afforded a number of rights under state and federal law. It is easy to see, with the protections now afforded under state and federal law to those with service animals, the proliferation of service animals in all sorts of public places.

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