Stricter Rule for Service Dogs Goes Against the ADA

I am pleased to introduce Sarah Albert as a guest blogger today. Sarah teaches companion animal courses for the animal sciences department at the University of Illinois. One of the courses she leads each semester introduces the 600 students enrolled to important topics involving people and their animals, and one thing they discuss every semester is service dogs and legislation.

by Sarah Albert

Sarah Albert and her dog, Jax.

Sarah Albert and her dog, Jax.

I’ve been discussing the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with my students for years, especially the laws meant to protect individuals with disabilities and their ability to use service dogs in public to aid them.

Imagine my surprise then when I found myself stumbling upon a newly introduced bill in the Illinois state legislature. The bill, HB 3162, would require the department of Financial and Professional Regulation to establish a service dog license program in our state and would require that same department to come up with rules and guidelines for this licensing program. If passed, this new law would:

    • Require the dog respond to basic obedience and the skilled task 90% of the time on the first command in both the home and public places;
    • Require the dog demonstrate basic obedience skills with both voice commands and hand signals (sitting, laying down, walking in a controlled manner, staying in place, and coming when called);
    • Require that the dog meets all of the standards laid about by the Assistance Dogs International group in public, and also being well behaved in the home;
    • Require that the dog is trained to perform at least three tasks for the disability;
    • Require the dog/handler to have a license card with a photograph of the dog and the names of the dog and handler;
    • Require a service dog in public to wear a cape, harness, backpack, or other similar equipment with a logo that identifies it as an assistance;
    • Require dogs be spayed/neutered and be vaccinated as determined by the dog’s veterinarian and applicable laws

At first glance, this may seem like a good idea, especially considering the string of fake service dogs entering public places. The rise in people bringing their pets to public places (posing as service dogs) is both dangerous and disrespectful. It jeopardizes the rights of individuals with true disabilities.

Individuals with disabilities have had to fight for their rights; rights that were finally afforded to them with the passage of the ADA in 1990. The ADA defines service animals as a “dog that has individually been trained to perform a task to aid an individual with a disability.” The law does not require a central licensing system, harnesses or vests on animals, professional training by approved organizations, or documentation of a disability.

So, why would this law be such a bad thing? Maybe we need to crack down on these fakers. To understand this question better, let’s consider three reasons why the ADA left a lot of these requirements out:

  1. Not all individuals with a disability have easy access to a medical doctor, and some cannot afford a visit to a medical doctor. A person with a diagnosed seizure disorder, for example, might not see a doctor regularly and making a doctor’s appointment just to get an official letter could be expensive.
  2. The requirement to get this license and equipment to identify an animal as a service dog. What costs fall upon the individual with the disability (a fee to apply, the cost of a vest or harness that is specially made)? What costs are required of the taxpayer to fund someone to test dogs and hand out licenses? Cost and confidentiality for the person with the disability is a huge concern – and one the ADA intended to avoid as it does not require medical documentation or vests for dogs.
  3. The obedience and skills required are too subjective

Let me try to explain item #3 on the list by taking a look at our seizure detection dog again as an example.

This individual who suffers from seizures may not have started out with a specially trained service dog. They may have a dog that helps them by alerting them to their condition — this could have been a pet who started to alert on its own. Alerting about seizures could become its specialized task (the one the ADA requires) but under this new proposed Illinois legislation, what three tasks will this dog be required to perform? How will they showcase the dog can do this on command if an impending seizure is needed to trigger the dog’s task? How will we ask a quadriplegic to use hand signals with his service dog? Or an autistic child to give perfect verbal commands under pressure to their service animal?

These seem like unnecessary demands for individuals who truly need these animals, and let’s also consider this: Dogs are still, well…dogs. They’re not robots who perform on command at a perfect rate. Heck, even robots mess up sometimes.

The expectation that a dog would be able to perform close to perfect in all situations is unreasonable. Even the most highly trained dogs are not always able to do this. It’s hard to know what the department will be looking for, and what will happen if someone with a true disability is denied their service animal simply because the dog had an off day.

With only these points in mind, it’s apparent this law is extremely harmful to individuals with disabilities, and completely goes against the intention of the ADA to protect their rights.

Stay tuned for a future post by Sarah Albert where she’ll outline some ideas to address the increase in fake service dogs.


Comments may not reflect Easterseals' policies or positions.

  1. Cheryl Millard Says:

    The law providing the most protection for the service dog team supersedes the other laws whether it be county, city, state or federal, so no, if it goes against ADA laws the federal laws will stand and provide protection to the service dog and its handler.

  2. Rose G Says:

    I saw a few commenters that seem to be imply that service dogs should only come from “professional” dog trainers of course the very real problem with that is what’s a professional dog trainer? Did they get their training from an online tutorial? Self taught? Because the truth about dog trainers of course is they’re not licensed and are therefore potentially worse than any individual who is disabled training their own service dog! There have been multiple high profile cases of “professional dog trainers” scamming the disabled people giving them vicious dogs, puppies that aren’t potty trained yet, and so on so these service dog trainers might be far worse than any disabled person. Also once you have a law criminalizing the disabled person who happens to be in a store with their service dog no matter how well trained then you’re going to have the legal system abusing disabled people who have traditionally been discriminated against…. so basically anyone who has a disability! You take the poor persons dog to the shelter and jail them for god knows how long and then you all will wish these state laws weren’t going into effect! The police won’t be arresting the rich woman with their expensive little puppies who have the money to hire a psychiatrist and a lawyer it’s going to be you!

  3. Kay Says:

    My dog was actually trained by a regular individual. He’s amazing though and I believe he’s missing his calling. His dog is an amazing emotional support dog and could easily pass as a service dog with flying colors. I’m not so lucky to be able to get a service dog but was lucky to have been able to get the great grand daughter of his dog, my Fiona. Within the first week of having her, she detected me having a seizure and crawled on top of me, her face on mine, and actually had stopped the seizure from happening any further. She knows many commands but is a lover and loves everyone. Lol. I am her emotional support human, as she is my service dog. I don’t want another dog and can’t afford to train her. Yet I don’t want to change her. I love her the way she is. She’s good in public and I’ve taken her out a few times already to pet friendly places like petco etc. She listens to my commands VERY well and is a good girl. What happens to people like me? She stops my seizures and stops my stuttering when my ptsd is triggered. I’d love to see her get a little more training on seizures if anything, notice my auras instead of just the seizure.


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  5. Stephanie McCandlish Says:

    I believe to some degree service dog owners/trainers should be licensed federally, not by state. Cuz its easier for people to see they’re dog’s helping them with a disability, but cuz they’re disabled, insurance should cover the fee or it should be completely free. #SelfTrainedServiceDogOwner

  6. Daniel Rolf Says:

    I feel that due to the fact so many people abuse the ADA to take “pocket pooches ” into businesses ,airlines, and exploit the no pets policy in apartments and houses rented SOMETHING in the ADA needs amendment .DON’T give me that BOVINE FODDER that federal trumps state. If that was the case Michigan would be open and its govenor stripped of her powers for obvious abuse but, that’s a different subject for another blog . We need a state wide licensing applied. With proof of training affixed .cost can be funneled through insurance, grants or other agencies , pining for a tax shelter.

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  8. Kay Says:

    Training for service animals is cost prohibitive for disabled people like me. Among my physical disabilities I also have CPTSD / Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression. I just lost my dog to cancer. I was only able to go out with my dog. He was not specifically trained, but he sensed my anxiety and focused my attention to him in order to alleviate my distress and it worked. I am still mourning the loss but I fear I will not be able to return to a high functioning level much less go into public without a dog that can assist with trained behaviors to alleviate my PTSD because I am not a veteran and am below the poverty level due to disabilities. Is there any hope for a case such as mine in Illinois?

  9. Bobbie Jo Duerre Says:

    I have a service dog that I trained myself, she helps me to get the things I need to bend over to reach. All I need her to help me with is picking things up and some help with stairs. She doesn’t need to know 3 things and if she does then I’ll teach her when she needs to learn it. She is very well trained and still has her off days and she doesn’t have a vest or card. I have her registered on 2 respectable websites. I cant afford the special identifying attire for her. I see untrained dogs alot passed off as service animals and it really concerns me because of the chances I may not be able to use my dog in the future when I will definitely need her help more. Giving free licences is great but how can you test these dogs for certain thingu7

  10. DT Says:

    Maybe it’s time to mandate the ADA to add MUCH NEEDED service animal regulations! Most of the supposedly “service dog” you see in stores behave like they need to be eaten. Morons pretend their pets are service animals, and nowadays everything is a freaking disability. Who doesn’t have anxiety? You don’t see me cry about it all the time.

  11. Rhonda Says:

    Honestly would love to see a huge change in regulation, like a driver a licence. If the SD can come to the a state building dmv etc.. a yearly test rather self trained or program must past public access and only then a state photo ID is issued.
    Right now having a SS is an epidemic of those self diagnosing themselves and training with no knowledge of the right way

  12. Mia Says:

    I have several disabilities and have been interested for some time in a service dog. Others with my conditions have greatly benefited from service dogs. I purchased a puppy over the summer and began training myself following online videos. Could someone please contact me regarding the next steps and grants or funding for further training programs for him or any programs to apply for.

    Thanks so much.

  13. Mike g. Says:

    The federal law : says no i.d. no harness no sweater
    No cape nothing special at all. The law does say
    Person is responsible for their dog and can be fined.
    So I wish everyone would embrace dogs in general
    As dogs have every right to be part of society
    As they help many millions of people.

  14. DeEtta Duckett Says:

    It would be interesting if they tried that in Florida. What a fight they would have. And they would have to really educate the medical profession. Doctors have no clue what the difference is between a service dog, emotional support animal and a therspy dog. For example; on Craigslist, a doctor’s placed an add “Emotional support & therapy animal”. Have you get prescribed as an emotional support therapy companion and never be alone again. Dr. Drake has been prescribing his patients their beloved pet as part of their treatment, etc. What is wrong with people these days. I would like to get rid of my disability. Go back to the normal life I had many many years ago. I am grateful that I have a dog so that I can live a partially normal life now. And to see this on Craigslist it’s appalling.

  15. Tima Says:

    I believe it was Illinois that at a rest area we were stopped by attendants who insisted on seeing proof and ID for my service dog. I promptly quoted ADA, produced an ADA informational wallet card that I carry. They stated it was their supervisor who told them they had to see the dogs ID cardamd implied that it was a state requirement. That being said I responded that I was not a resident of that state and was just traveling thru. The law could not be applicable to out of state residents because how can an out of state resident obtain a state liscensed SD ID card? I believe that if this were to go to court federal law would trump state law. Otherwise service dogs would have to obtain various liscensing etc in every state, county and city in the US, which is impossible and undue hardship for the disabled owner and could possibly be considered discrimination. This is why we have ADA laws.

  16. Doug Says:

    How could the “Problem of fake service dogs” possibly rise to the importance that a law be passed ? I have a genuine service dog and I could not care less if some dumbass tried to pass his mutt off as a service dog. People need to mind their own business. We have become a nation of busybodies

  17. DawnMarie McCollum Says:

    I am a 59 year old woman in Massachusetts, who has a letter frequenting an accommodation for a sizable service dog in the elderly / handicapped housing project where I live.
    My daughter got me a puppy which was a good candidate. I started out self training and did well up to basic obedience. I am not comfortable taking him into public places. Is there funding available to help me further his training? I have PTSD, Agoraphobia, severe Anxiety disorder, and I am Epileptic.

  18. David Gletne Says:

    I am a Veteran, with an honorable discharge. I have an 8 year old dog and no one else in the world to call a friend. I have been trying to get a disability going, but cant find anyone to help me locally in Tillamook Oregon. I do have HUD VASH however, but absolutely no income, and no one will hire a crippled up 60 something year old in this small town. Not to mention, there aren’t a lot of jobs I have skills for, or are physically able to perform. I am fighting both severe physical and mental problems right now, and need help