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A Service Animal Explained

Updated on January 10, 2021
Annie Wright profile image

Owner of a service animal, I've been discriminated against, harassed, and bullied. I understand the laws and rights about a service animal.


My trained service dog who is trained to alert me to sound. Name Sweetness Handler Anna Haun Service Type Deafness or Impaired Hearing Type Service Dog ID 20024165
My trained service dog who is trained to alert me to sound. Name Sweetness Handler Anna Haun Service Type Deafness or Impaired Hearing Type Service Dog ID 20024165 | Source

A Service Animal

"Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.,"

July 26, 1996

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Association of Attorneys General have formed a Disability Rights Task Force to promote and protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.

We have found that many businesses across the country have prohibited individuals with disabilities who use service animals from entering their premises, in many instances because of ignorance or confusion about the animal's appropriate use. This document provides specific information about the legal requirements regarding individuals with disabilities who use service animals. It was prepared by the Task Force to assist businesses in complying voluntarily with the Americans with Disabilities Act and applicable state laws.

Twenty-four state attorneys general* are distributing a similar document (including state-specific requirements) to associations representing restaurants, hotels and motels, and retailers for dissemination to their members.

We encourage you to share this document with businesses and people with disabilities and their families in your community.

Deval L. Patrick and Scott Harshbarger
Assistant Attorney General / Attorney General
Civil Rights Division State of Massachusetts;
U.S. Department of Justice President, National Association of Attorneys General

Q: What is a service animal?

A: The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animals individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. "Seeing eye dogs" are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include:

_____Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.

_____ Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.

_____Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.

  • When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs - Interview with Carol Borden, CEO

Disability Act

Disability as defined by the ADA

"Disability as defined by the ADA:

(1) Disability.–The term `disability’ means, with respect to an individual–

(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;

(B) a record of such an impairment; or

(C) being regarded as having such an impairment (as described in paragraph (3)).

(2) Major life activities.–

(A) In general.–For purposes of paragraph (1), major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

(B) Major bodily functions.–For purposes of paragraph (1), a major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions."

Pictures Of Service Dogs, Different Vests, And Badges

Service dog uses an ATM machine
Service dog uses an ATM machine
Pretty Service Dog
Pretty Service Dog
Vest can come in many styles
Vest can come in many styles
Vest can in different colors
Vest can in different colors
One type of badge
One type of badge
This badge alerts others to the handler health condition
This badge alerts others to the handler health condition

Types Of A Service Canine

There are five different types of service dogs that can perform a variety of different services for their handlers. Service dogs come in many different sizes. Emotional Support dog is much different than a service dog.

  • Hearing Service Dog - This type of canine is trained to alert the handler to sounds such as alarms, the presence of people, someone at the door, phone ringing, among other sounds. The service dog is trained in assisting the hearing impaired/or the deaf person by alerting them whether it barks or by other actions.
  • Alert Service Dog - This canine can remind the handler to take their meds, alert them when they are having a seizure, blood pressure, diabetic when the handler is having issues. More of a medical dog.
  • Guide Service Dog - This type of canine is the most common that other people are familiar with. Whether the handler is partially blind or blind the service dog is trained to lead them along the path. The service dog is also able to assist the person in avoiding dangerous areas.
  • Psychiatric Service Dog - In this category, the service canine is able to perform many different types of task. Handlers who suffer from neurological diseases, cognitive problems, such as Autism or Alzheimers.
  • Other Types Of Service Animals - If a person has mobility problems the service dog can assist with balance. Not only can it do that but can do many other tasks as well such as fetch stuff, turn lights off and on, open doors, even use an ATM machine, pull carts, and wheelchairs, the list is endless.

Help Is Available For The Disabled Person Who's been Discriminated Against, Harassed, Or Bullied

Talking from personal experience, I've been discriminated against, harassed, and bullied, the people doing it don't have a clue to the damage they are causing as a disabled person depends on their service dog. I've only have 20 percent hearing so therefore Sweetness is my ears to alert me to sound. With my disability, I couldn't function very well without Sweetness to alert me to sounds and she never leaves my side, we do everything together as a team. Next time when you want to cause a person problems just because they are disable think about how your actions can impact the person who has a disability and destroy not only a disabled person life but a smart service dog life, an animal that never done anything to you.

Where to get help when you have a disability and people discriminate against you:

If you can't afford a lawyer who specializes in assisting the disabled person there still is help available free of charge.

  1. Filing a Complaint
    Housing discrimination complaints can be filed with Housing and Urban Development:
    Complaints may be filed online, by phone (1 (800) 669-9777), or by mail using a downloaded form.
  2. Species Restrictions

While only dogs are considered service animals under the ADA (and some accommodations may be required for the use of some miniature horses), the Fair Housing Act has no such restriction. While the ADA does not include emotional support animals, the FHA does. Some housing providers will be subject to the ADA, such as government-owned housing. Some will be subject to the FHA, such as most landlords with more than four units. Some will be subject to both, and some to neither. Wherever the FHA applies, common domestic species are included as assistance animals, but where the ADA applies, only dogs are. Where both apply the FHA multiple species policies applies.

FHA Complaint

"Your fair housing rights are protected under Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act). If those rights have been violated, you can file a complaint with HUD."

To file a complaint online please click here.

Alternative Methods

  • Phone - Fair housing complaints can be filed with HUD by telephone (1-800-669-9777).
  • ACAA Complaint

    Before filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation it is always best to try to resolve the issue directly with the airline.

    If you can’t resolve the problem at the airport, you may want to file a complaint with the airline. DOT requires airlines to acknowledge consumer complaints within 30 days of receiving them and to send consumers written responses addressing these complaints within 60 days of receiving them.

    To file an online complaint regarding Air Travel click here.

    Alternative Methods

    • Phone You may file a complaint with DOT by phone at 202-366-2220 (TTY 202-366-0511).
    • Mail – To contact by mail, please send your complaint to the address below.
      • Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75
        U.S. Department of Transportation
        1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
        Washington, DC 20590
    • How to File an ADA Complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice

      You can file an Americans with Disabilities Act complaint alleging disability discrimination against a State or local government or a public accommodation (private business including, for example, a restaurant, doctor's office, retail store, hotel, etc.). A complaint can be filed online using the link below, or by mail, or by fax.

      To file an ADA complaint online:

      Online Complaint Form | (en Español)
      Instructions for submitting attachments are on the form.

      To file an ADA complaint by mail:

      US Department of Justice
      950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
      Civil Rights Division
      Disability Rights Section – 1425 NYAV
      Washington, D.C. 20530

      To file an ADA complaint by fax: (202) 307-1197

      Please keep a copy of your complaint and the original documents for your own records.

Lucas Hembree and his service dog Juno

Service Dog

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Anna Haun


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