Tell DOJ what you think about autism service dogs

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) that will expand the definition of “service animal.”

The new rules are meant to clarify what qualifies as a service animal — and to avoid confusion — when it comes to implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Of particular interest to people concerned with autism assistance dogs is DOJ’s categorical statement:

Animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals.

Control of the service animal in public settings is also emphasized in the NPRM. A post on a widely read blog called AutismVox expresses a concern that people with autism may have to “re-categorize” themselves to qualify their dogs as service animals.

… there is generally a lot of hesitation to referring to autism and autism spectrum disorders in the category of “mental disability/impairment/health, etc.” But what if recourse to such categories is necessary to ensure that an autistic child can have a therapy dog in school with them?

It’s not just schools that are scrutinizing autism assistance dogs — a story in a New Zealand newspaper last week reports that Quantas forbid three autism assistance dogs from boarding a plane in Los Angeles.

Qantas said it allowed service dogs to travel in the cabin if they were registered, such as guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs or any other dog that a person with a disability required to help them with their travel.

“The passenger must carry and present a recognised Service Dog ID card or documentation at the time of check-in,” a spokeswoman said. “In this case, although Qantas operated the flight, the passengers travelled as customers of American Airlines. Therefore, American Airlines has responsibility for booking, ticketing and providing passengers with information.”

She said Qantas would investigate the way the matter was handled and contact the customers directly.

Your opinion on the rule changes proposed about service dogs are welcome. The Department of Justice has made it easy to submit your comment to them by email. Just make sure to go to the site this week — August 18, 2008 is their deadline for accepting comments.


Comments may not reflect Easterseals' policies or positions.

  1. Harriet Says:

    I have a 6 year old son with autism and a service dog who is an integral part of his life. She is trained to block him from getting outside, track him down if he does, and provide him with comfort when he is stressed. She goes everywhere with us. I cannot imagine life without her, or my son’s life. Service dogs are a necessary part of helping my son live a functional life.
    Harriet Herndon

  2. Katy Neas Says:

    Easter Seals, as part of our coalition work in Washington, DC, is submitting formal comments on the entire set of draft regulations. Here is just a small piece of what we are saying about service animals.

    “We strongly support the explicit recognition that service animals include animals that assist people with psychiatric, cognitive and other mental disabilities. Service animals perform a variety of critical functions that accommodate the needs of many individuals with psychiatric disabilities, including alleviating symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders and panic disorders by calming the handler and reducing physical and mental effects such as anxiety, fear, flashbacks, hypervigilance, hallucinations, intrusive imagery, nightmares, muscle tension, trembling, nausea, and memory loss. Service animals also assist people with cognitive disabilities with navigation. Such service animals make it possible for many people with psychiatric and cognitive disabilities to participate in everyday activities.”

    Easter Seals knows that service dogs can assist people with all types of disabilties – dogs can be trained to help people with epilespy – I’ve seen dogs that can take action before someone has a seizure and get them to safety as they have a seizure. Dogs can help people who are deaf or hard of hearing know when someone is knocking at the door, and dogs can help a person with cerebral palsy move without fear of falling. A service animal, like any other accommodation, should be available to any person with a disability based on the individual’s unique needs.

    Funny, we seem to make this type of statement alot. 🙂