Service Animals

2018; Issue 2

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A growing number of patients are presenting to medical appointments with their dogs in tow and while many people enjoy the company of their pets, not everyone feels this way. Service animals perform an invaluable assistance to their handlers and undergo extensive and specialized training. Examples of some of these tasks include guiding and alerting people who are blind and/or deaf, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications and alerting and protecting patients with low blood sugar and seizure disorders. Understanding the importance of these service animals and knowing what you can and cannot ask a handler in regard to their service animal can help to avoid conflict when patient complaints arise.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals and their handlers have numerous rights, but there are also rules and regulations which must be followed to ensure the dogs and their handlers are entitled to these rights. The US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has identified dogs as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA with a recent provision to include Miniature Horses.

Service animals are allowed to accompany people with disabilities in any areas open to the public. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The Americans with Disabilities does not recognize animals who provide comfort or emotional support, only animals that have been trained to perform a specialized task. When a patient presents to the medical practice there are only two questions that can be asked regarding the service animal.

  1. Is the service animal required due to a disability?
  2. What type of work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
You may not ask the following questions:
  1. Ask about the nature or extent of an individual’s disability
  2. Require proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a service animal
  3. Require the animal to wear an identifying vest or tag
  4. Ask that the animal demonstrate its ability to perform the task or work
If it is obvious what service a service animal is performing such as guiding an individual who is visually impaired or pulling a wheelchair, you are not allowed to ask about the disability or training.

A service animal must be leashed (unless the leash interferes with the ability to perform their service) and kept under control by its handler at all times while on your property. Animals can be asked to leave the property if it is not housebroken, behaves aggressively or is a threat to human health and safety. People with service animals cannot be isolated from other patients or treated differently than other patients.

For more information or questions please contact ADA Information Line
800-514-0301 (Voice) and 800-514-0383 (TTY)

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For persons with disabilities, this publication is available in alternate formats.