New ADA regulations about service dogs start today

Today’s the day … starting today, March 15, 2011, only service dogs and trained miniature horses are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Monkeys, rodents, and reptiles, among others, are no longer permitted to accompany individuals with disabilities into places of public accommodation.

Department of Justice regulations (implementing Title III of the ADA) used to define a service animal as: “any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”

The revisions taking affect today define a service animal as: “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”

Notice the specific word dog in that sentence. Aside from one provision for miniature horses, other species of animals (whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained) are no longer deemed service animals. That means monkeys, parrots, rodents, and reptiles, among others, are no longer permitted to accompany individuals with disabilities into places of public accommodation.

In the old days, having a service animal meant you were blind and traveled with a guide dog. Today, dogs help people cope with seizures, monitor medication or help minimize behavior troubles for children with autism. The potential of service animals is tremendous.

Unfortunately, the wider acceptance of service animals tempted some people to abuse the system. I’m in public all the time with my Seeing Eye dog, and I get an earful of stories about helper parrots who peck at shoppers in stores, comfort pigs going crazy in airplanes, even a therapeutic rat that quells anxiety in his owner but causes anxiety to others.

Under the revised regulations people can still use other animals like these to help them in their homes, but starting today they can no longer claim the ADA gives them the right to bring them to places of public accommodation. These revisions come after some disability advocates asked the Department of Justice to crack down on people who were faking or exaggerating disabilities in order to get special privileges for their companion animals.

My hope is that limiting the number of allowable species might stop erosion of the public’s trust in our well-behaved, helpful — and absolutely necessary — service dogs.


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