Can We Ask About Service Animals?
This month’s question is about the use of service animals. It actually came up in one of our Access for All Foundation trainings. If you have a question you would like to submit for our monthly Team Talk Question & Answer, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
Q: We have seen an increase in the number of customers that bring in “service” animals into our center. We’re not sure if the animals (mostly dogs) are actually pets or if they are indeed providing a service to a customer with a disability. We’re concerned about liability if in fact the dog is actually a pet. What are we legally allowed to ask?
A: Excellent question! By definition, service animals are individually trained to do work or perform task(s) for an individual with a disability. For example, an animal could be trained to guide, alert, protect, remind or calm a person with a disability. The task or service performed is based on the needs of the individual. A dog or animal whose sole purpose is to provide comfort or emotional support doesn’t qualify as a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, some State or local laws may define service animal more broadly than the ADA does, so be sure to determine what law(s) applies to your local area.
When it’s not obvious what service or task a service animal provides, you may ask two questions (and only two) to help clarify:
- “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?”
- And, “What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?”
You cannot ask what the individual’s specific disability is, require medical documentation or a special identification card/training documentation for the animal, or ask that the animal demonstrate its ability to perform the service or task. Fear of dogs or allergies to dog or animal dander is not a valid reason for denying access. In the case of allergies, both individuals should be accommodated.
With regard to removal of a service animal, a person cannot be asked to remove the service animal unless it is out of control and not being effectively controlled by its handler, or the animal is not housebroken. If there is a legitimate reason for removal, the individual should still be offered the opportunity to utilize or obtain services without the animal’s presence.
This information was taken directly from a publication entitled Service Animals put out by the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. For more information, visit: www.ada.gov.