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A Beginner’s Guide to Service Dogs

April 26, 2022

Service dogs can represent the path to increased mobility and enhanced quality of life for those who live with a disability. Service dogs are animals who are specially trained to perform tasks that make everyday life easier for those who deal with disabilities. While they can be of great benefit to those who require them, owning a service dog is not as simple as picking out a pet. Service dog ownership and the rights of those who own them are part of a complex environment, which can be confusing to first-time service dog owners.

If you’ve recently elected to acquire a service dog to help you live with your disability, you may have many questions about how you should proceed. For example, you may wonder if it’s necessary to enroll your pet with a service dog registry. Likewise, you may want to know whether service dog vests are required to protect your rights and gain you and your dog equal access to public accommodations. While in some others, service dog registration may be beneficial in helping to navigate the legal environment surrounding service animals, in other locations that may not be the case. Therefore, it’s important that you absorb some basic information about service dogs, your rights as a service dog owner, and how you can navigate the regulations surrounding them. Keep reading to learn about service dog ownership.

Service Dogs Aren’t Emotional Support or Therapy Animals

While the labels are sometimes erroneously used interchangeably, service dogs are distinct from emotional support animals and pet therapy animals. Service dogs are individually trained to perform tasks for individuals that pertain to their specific disabilities. They and their owners are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which means that the dog and owner are afforded accessibility in housing, pet-free establishments, mass transit, educational institutions, and the workplace. ESA dogs and therapy dogs are not specially trained to perform specific tasks related to their owners’ disabilities. They are not protected to the same extent by the ADA, and accessibility is more limited as a result.

Registration Isn’t Required, but It’s Beneficial

The ADA doesn’t require that a service animal be registered by any registering body. The rights afforded to service dogs and their owners are not contingent upon registration so long as the owner meets the definition of a person living with a disability. The ADA also requires that the dog is specially trained to perform a specific task that mitigates the disability, is fully housebroken, and is under full control of the owner at all times. However, registration and accompanying documentation can help service dog owners navigate the world with greater ease. The presence of registration documentation, service animal cards, and service animal vests can help communicate your service animal’s purpose and reduce resistance to accommodation.

Public Accommodation Rights Are Protected

The ADA specifies that there are several areas in which the rights of owners of service dogs must be respected. Those include housing, public accommodations, air travel, work, and education. Under the ADA, an employee of an organization or institution can only ask two questions of service dog owners. As a service dog owner, you can be asked whether your dog is required because of a disability and what work task the dog is trained to perform. If you can answer those two questions in the affirmative, admittance must be allowed.

If you are entering the complex world of service dogs, you may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that is available. However, by learning the basics, you can more easily navigate life with a service dog and reap the full benefits that they offer.

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