1. Health

Service Animals


Updated June 24, 2014

Man in wheelchair with spinal cord injury talking with service dog with his pregnant wife in the background
Huntstock/Vetta/Getty Images

In years past, service animals were usually dogs that assisted the blind in navigating the world outside of their home. It is not unusual nowadays to have the term “service animal” include miniature horses, birds and snakes. Service animals are so-called because they provide a necessary service to the life of their owner. Some service animals can alert an individual that they are about to have an epileptic seizure, while others can protect their owners from dangers in the home, such as alerting them to a fire.

Qualifying Animals

If you aren’t used to seeing service animals other than dogs, you may be confused as to what qualifies as a service animal. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, TitleIII, 28 CFR, Sec. 36.104, a service animal is "any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability." Some animals have proven to be especially adept at service work. Popular animals include Capuchin monkeys, miniature horses and certain dog breeds, such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.

Service Animal Abilities

Service animals can perform many jobs for their owner‘s depending upon their disability. Capuchin monkeys are able to wash people’s faces, microwave food, turn on lights and other human-like tasks. Miniature horses can be trained to perform like their dog counterparts such as guiding their owner’s around obstacles, stopping for lights at crosswalks and guiding an owner’s hand to press a crossing signal button.

Guide Animal Problems

With so many animals now qualifying as service animals, the public as well as business owners are beginning to question the legitimacy of certain animals. Even though the Americans with Disabilities Act protects all animals that have been properly trained, not everyone is willing to accept them. In some cases, even the traditional service dog can be unwelcome at a business.

Reasons that service animals have been turned away from public places include fear of barking dogs in a movie theater or concern that a patron may have allergies to a particular type of animal. Other examples include birds and rats being perceived as unclean when they make an appearance at a restaurant, no matter how well behaved they are.

Legal Rights of Service Animal Owners

If you’re someone who has a service animal and you have been turned away at a public place, you have certain rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. An individual who is using a service animal has the same rights as a non-disabled individual. The ADA supersedes any local or state law prohibiting service animals in any place that is open to the public.

Service Animal Registry

Having a service animal registered is not required by law. However, there are several service animal registries that will provide owners with a photo ID of the handler and a photo ID of the service animal. These identification cards seem to help stop discriminatory practices of businesses and transportation services.

Filing a Discrimination Complaint

If you’ve been discriminated against because of your service animal, you have a legitimate legal complaint. Discrimination complaints that occurred during air travel can be submitted to:

  • Aviation Consumer Protection Division
  • Attn: C-75-D
  • U.S. Department of Transportation
  • 400 7th Street, S.W.
  • Washington, D.C. 20590
  • Email: airconsumer@ost.dot.gov

Discrimination complaints that have occurred in a public area or business should be directed to the following:

  • Legal Aid Society
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • Division of Civil Rights
  • Bar Association
  • International Association of Assistance Dog Partners

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.