A client walks into a community organization with a large dog. The dog doesn’t have a vest or badge identifying it as a service animal and the person is not blind. The organization has a clear sign prohibiting animals on the premises. The person states the dog is their service animal. What should the organization do?
Service Animals and the ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Many people with disabilities need service animals to go about their daily life. Because of the ADA, organizations are required to accommodate a service animal if an individual needs the animal due to a disability. The ADA overrules any local health department regulation.
However, a service animal is different from a therapy animal. A service animal is an animal that has been trained to perform tasks needed by the individual with the disability. A therapy animal is used for emotional comfort and these animals are not required to be accommodated under the ADA.
As of March of 2011, dogs are the only service animal recognized by the ADA. Service dogs aren’t required to wear special harnesses. They also don't need to have identification papers. If it’s unclear if the dog is working as a service animal or not, two questions are allowed by the ADA:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Insisting the individual provide documentation of their disability or of their dog's training is not allowed. Essentially, the ADA says public organizations must trust a person stating they need a service dog due to a disability.
On the other hand, the dog must be well-behaved. If the dog behaves in a way that is a direct threat to the health and safety of others or is not under the control of its handler, the organization can ask the dog to leave. If the dog is in a quiet place, such as a library, lecture, or theater, and is barking loudly and being disruptive, it can be excluded. Organizations with pools, such as gyms and hotels, are not required to allow dogs in their pools. However, service dogs may be on the pool deck with their owners.
So the answer is yes, you have to let that dog in. It's better to err on the side of accommodating a service dog in most cases than to risk discriminating against someone due to their disability.