A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Apr 20, 2011

ADA Guidelines Limit Service Animals to Dogs and Miniature Horses

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as "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".  As such, any animal, whether dog, horse, monkey, bird or rat, trained to assist or alert was qualified to serve. A particular animal would be selected based upon need, size, allergies and level of skills.  So a monkey might be perfect when hands are needed, miniature horses are excellent for the visually impaired, while ducks, ferrets and parrots assist in controlling anxiety disorders. Furthermore, different animals can sense and/or smell seizures, spasms and physical changes before their onset thereby affording their person time to protect themselves, take medication or call for help. For example, a woman uses a service rat who can detect the start of spasms that she can't feel and warns her (by licking her neck) to take her medication. In other words, service animals are not just the traditional guide dogs.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice issued new guidelines for the ADA which recommend limiting service animals to dogs and housebroken miniature horses. (Miniature horses are often preferred as guide animals as they have excellent vision and live three times as long as dogs.) Their decision was based on comments from business establishments not comfortable dealing with the assortment of visiting wildlife as well as the enormous amount of fraud committed by people who just want to bring their pets with them wherever they go. "Knock off" service vests, purchased doctors' notes and expensive on line certificates can all be acquired to assert that an animal is essential to the well-being of the person. In fact, the ADA requires that the animals be allowed access with challenges made after the fact. 

These guidelines need not be followed by states, cities or even other federal agencies, but they certainly do not augur well for those legitimate sufferers who depend upon non dogs and miniature horses for their health as they could well be adopted and start a trend.

Perhaps if those fortunate enough not to require a service animal would behave, the new guidelines might not be enacted locally, and those needing to bring a snake out to dinner could do so and thrive. For now, those relying on excluded animals must keep an eye on local developments.

Article first published as ADA Guidelines Limit Service Animals to Dogs and Miniature Horses on Technorati.

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