Listen to Colorado Public Radio (“CPR”) this afternoon, 12/30/19, at 4:50 PM to hear an interview by CPR’s Andrew Kenney with CCDC Civil Rights Legal Program Director (“LPD”), Kevin Williams, discuss service animals and the addition of miniature horses to the definition. You can find CPR on your FM dial at 90.1 (wait we do it some other way now, don’t we — sorry your Legal Program Director has been around for a while). In any event, the brief interview will air again today at that time. CCDC’s LPD also apologizes for having lost his voice on the very day the interview occurred. His very strange sounding voice is not the fault of the great people at CPR, we assure you.
Here is the link to the article/text version from CPR:
Here is a link to the Department of Justice additional guidance regarding the updated 2010 regulations regarding service animals:
Here is another Department of Justice Frequently Asked Questions sheet regarding service animals published in 2015. This one does not even mention miniature horses:
Although there is no specific language in the 1991 title II regulation concerning service animals, title II entities have the same legal obligations as title III entities to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to allow service animals when necessary in order to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless the entity can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity. See 28 CFR 35.130(b)(7). The 1991 title III regulation, 28 CFR 36.104, defines a ‘‘service animal” as ‘‘any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.” Section 36.302(c)(1) of the 1991 title III regulation requires that ‘‘[g]enerally, a public accommodation shall modify policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.” Section 36.302(c)(2) of the 1991 title III regulation states that ‘‘a public accommodation [is not required] to supervise or care for a service animal.”
The Department has issued guidance and provided technical assistance and publications concerning service animals since the 1991 regulations became effective. In the NPRM, the Department proposed to modify the definition of service animal, added the definition to title II, and asked for public input on several issues related to the service animal provisions of the title II regulation: whether the Department should clarify the phrase ‘‘providing minimal protection” in the definition or remove it; whether there are any circumstances where a service animal ‘‘providing minimal protection” would be appropriate or expected; whether certain species should be eliminated from the definition of ‘‘service animal,” and, if so, which types of animals should be excluded; whether ‘‘common domestic animal” should be part of the definition; and whether a size or weight limitation should be imposed for common domestic animals even if the animal satisfies the ‘‘common domestic animal” part of the NPRM definition.
The Department received extensive comments on these issues, as well as requests to clarify the obligations of State and local government entities to accommodate individuals with disabilities who use service animals, and has modified the final rule in response. In the interests of avoiding unnecessary repetition, the Department has elected to discuss the issues raised in the NPRM questions about service animals and the corresponding public comments in the following discussion of the definition of ‘‘service animal.”
The Department’s final rule defines ‘‘service animal” as ‘‘any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”
This definition has been designed to clarify a key provision of the ADA. Many covered entities indicated that they are confused regarding their obligations under the ADA with regard to individuals with disabilities who use service animals. Individuals with disabilities who use trained guide or service dogs are concerned that if untrained or unusual animals are termed ‘‘service animals,” their own right to use guide or service dogs may become unnecessarily restricted or questioned. Some individuals who are not individuals with disabilities have claimed, whether fraudulently or sincerely (albeit mistakenly), that their animals are service animals covered by the ADA, in order to gain access to courthouses, city or county administrative offices, and other title II facilities. The increasing use of wild, exotic, or unusual species, many of which are untrained, as service animals has also added to the confusion.
Finally, individuals with disabilities who have the legal right under the Fair Housing Act (FHAct) to use certain animals in their homes as a reasonable accommodation to their disabilities have assumed that their animals also qualify under the ADA. This is not necessarily the case, as discussed below.
The Department recognizes the diverse needs and preferences of individuals with disabilities protected under the ADA, and does not wish to unnecessarily impede individual choice. Service animals play an integral role in the lives of many individuals with disabilities and, with the clarification provided by the final rule, individuals with disabilities will continue to be able to use their service animals as they go about their daily activities and civic interactions. The clarification will also help to ensure that the fraudulent or mistaken use of other animals not qualified as service animals under the ADA will be deterred. A more detailed analysis of the elements of the definition and the comments responsive to the service animal provisions of the NPRM follows.
Providing minimal protection. As previously noted, the 1991 title II regulation does not contain specific language concerning service animals. The 1991 title III regulation included language stating that ‘‘minimal protection” was a task that could be performed by an individually trained service animal for the benefit of an individual with a disability. In the Department’s ‘‘ADA Business Brief on Service Animals” (2002), the Department interpreted the ‘‘minimal protection” language within the context of a seizure (i.e., alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure). The Department received many comments in response to the question of whether the ‘‘minimal protection” language should be clarified. Many commenters urged the removal of the ‘‘minimal protection” language from the service animal definition for two reasons: (1) The phrase can be interpreted to allow any dog that is trained to be aggressive to qualify as a service animal simply by pairing the animal with a person with a disability; and (2) the phrase can be interpreted to allow any untrained pet dog to qualify as a service animal, since many consider the mere presence of a dog to be a crime deterrent, and thus sufficient to meet the minimal protection standard. These commenters argued, and the Department agrees, that these interpretations were not contemplated under the original title III regulation, and, for the purposes of the final title II regulations, the meaning of ‘‘minimal protection” must be made clear.
While many commenters stated that they believe that the ‘‘minimal protection” language should be eliminated, other commenters recommended that the language be clarified, but retained. Commenters favoring clarification of the term suggested that the Department explicitly exclude the function of attack or exclude those animals that are trained solely to be aggressive or protective. Other commenters identified nonviolent behavioral tasks that could be construed as minimally protective, such as interrupting self-mutilation, providing safety checks and room searches, reminding the individual to take medications, and protecting the individual from injury resulting from seizures or unconsciousness.
Several commenters noted that the existing direct threat defense, which allows the exclusion of a service animal if the animal exhibits unwarranted or unprovoked violent behavior or poses a direct threat, prevents the use of ‘‘attack dogs” as service animals. One commenter noted that the use of a service animal trained to provide ‘‘minimal protection” may impede access to care in an emergency, for example, where the first responder, usually a title II entity, is unable or reluctant to approach a person with a disability because the individual’s service animal is in a protective posture suggestive of aggression.
Many organizations and individuals stated that in the general dog training community, ‘‘protection” is code for attack or aggression training and should be removed from the definition. Commenters stated that there appears to be a broadly held misconception that aggression-trained animals are appropriate service animals for persons with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While many individuals with PTSD may benefit by using a service animal, the work or tasks performed appropriately by such an animal would not involve unprovoked aggression but could include actively cuing the individual by nudging or pawing the individual to alert to the onset of an episode and removing the individual from the anxiety-provoking environment.
The Department recognizes that despite its best efforts to provide clarification, the ‘‘minimal protection” language appears to have been misinterpreted. While the Department maintains that protection from danger is one of the key functions that service animals perform for the benefit of persons with disabilities, the Department recognizes that an animal individually trained to provide aggressive protection, such as an attack dog, is not appropriately considered a service animal. Therefore, the Department has decided to modify the ‘‘minimal protection” language to read ‘‘nonviolent protection,” thereby excluding so-called ‘‘attack dogs” or dogs with traditional ‘‘protection training” as service animals. The Department believes that this modification to the service animal definition will eliminate confusion, without restricting unnecessarily the type of work or tasks that service animals may perform. The Department’s modification also clarifies that the crime-deterrent effect of a dog’s presence, by itself, does not qualify as work or tasks for purposes of the service animal definition.
Alerting to intruders. The phrase ‘‘alerting to intruders” is related to the issues of minimal protection and the work or tasks an animal may perform to meet the definition of a service animal. In the original 1991 regulatory text, this phrase was intended to identify service animals that alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of others. This language has been misinterpreted by some to apply to dogs that are trained specifically to provide aggressive protection, resulting in the assertion that such training qualifies a dog as a service animal under the ADA. The Department reiterates that title II entities are not required to admit any animal whose use poses a direct threat under § 35.139. In addition, the Department has decided to remove the word ‘‘intruders” from the service animal definition and replace it with the phrase ‘‘the presence of people or sounds.” The Department believes this clarifies that so-called ‘‘attack training” or other aggressive response types of training that cause a dog to provide an aggressive response do not qualify a dog as a service animal under the ADA.
Conversely, if an individual uses a breed of dog that is perceived to be aggressive because of breed reputation, stereotype, or the history or experience the observer may have with other dogs, but the dog is under the control of the individual with a disability and does not exhibit aggressive behavior, the title II entity cannot exclude the individual or the animal from a State or local government program, service, or facility. The animal can only be removed if it engages in the behaviors mentioned in § 35.136(b) (as revised in the final rule) or if the presence of the animal constitutes a fundamental alteration to the nature of the service, program, or activity of the title II entity.
Doing ‘‘work” or ‘‘performing tasks.’‘ The NPRM proposed that the Department maintain the requirement, first articulated in the 1991 title III regulation, that in order to qualify as a service animal, the animal must ‘‘perform tasks” or ‘‘do work” for the individual with a disability. The phrases ‘‘perform tasks” and ‘‘do work” describe what an animal must do for the benefit of an individual with a disability in order to qualify as a service animal.
The Department received a number of comments in response to the NPRM proposal urging the removal of the term ‘‘do work” from the definition of a service animal. These commenters argued that the Department should emphasize the performance of tasks instead. The Department disagrees. Although the common definition of work includes the performance of tasks, the definition of work is somewhat broader, encompassing activities that do not appear to involve physical action.
One service dog user stated that in some cases, ‘‘critical forms of assistance can’t be construed as physical tasks,” noting that the manifestations of ‘‘brain-based disabilities,” such as psychiatric disorders and autism, are as varied as their physical counterparts. The Department agrees with this statement but cautions that unless the animal is individually trained to do something that qualifies as work or a task, the animal is a pet or support animal and does not qualify for coverage as a service animal. A pet or support animal may be able to discern that the individual is in distress, but it is what the animal is trained to do in response to this awareness that distinguishes a service animal from an observant pet or support animal.
The NPRM contained an example of ‘‘doing work” that stated ‘‘a psychiatric service dog can help some individuals with dissociative identity disorder to remain grounded in time or place.” 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008). Several commenters objected to the use of this example, arguing that grounding was not a ‘‘task” and therefore, the example inherently contradicted the basic premise that a service animal must perform a task in order to mitigate a disability. Other commenters stated that ‘‘grounding” should not be included as an example of ‘‘work” because it could lead to some individuals claiming that they should be able to use emotional support animals in public because the dog makes them feel calm or safe. By contrast, one commenter with experience in training service animals explained that grounding is a trained task based upon very specific behavioral indicators that can be observed and measured. These tasks are based upon input from mental health practitioners, dog trainers, and individuals with a history of working with psychiatric service dogs.
It is the Department’s view that an animal that is trained to ‘‘ground” a person with a psychiatric disorder does work or performs a task that would qualify it as a service animal as compared to an untrained emotional support animal whose presence affects a person’s disability. It is the fact that the animal is trained to respond to the individual’s needs that distinguishes an animal as a service animal. The process must have two steps: Recognition and response. For example, if a service animal senses that a person is about to have a psychiatric episode and it is trained to respond for example, by nudging, barking, or removing the individual to a safe location until the episode subsides, then the animal has indeed performed a task or done work on behalf of the individual with the disability, as opposed to merely sensing an event.
One commenter suggested defining the term ‘‘task,” presumably to improve the understanding of the types of services performed by an animal that would be sufficient to qualify the animal for coverage. The Department believes that the common definition of the word ‘‘task” is sufficiently clear and that it is not necessary to add to the definitions section. However, the Department has added examples of other kinds of work or tasks to help illustrate and provide clarity to the definition. After careful evaluation of this issue, the Department has concluded that the phrases ‘‘do work” and ‘‘perform tasks” have been effective during the past two decades to illustrate the varied services provided by service animals for the benefit of individuals with all types of disabilities. Thus, the Department declines to depart from its longstanding approach at this time.
Species limitations. When the Department originally issued its title III regulation in the early 1990s, the Department did not define the parameters of acceptable animal species. At that time, few anticipated the variety of animals that would be promoted as service animals in the years to come, which ranged from pigs and miniature horses to snakes, iguanas, and parrots. The Department has followed this particular issue closely, keeping current with the many unusual species of animals represented to be service animals. Thus, the Department has decided to refine further this aspect of the service animal definition in the final rule.
The Department received many comments from individuals and organizations recommending species limitations. Several of these commenters asserted that limiting the number of allowable species would help stop erosion of the public’s trust, which has resulted in reduced access for many individuals with disabilities who use trained service animals that adhere to high behavioral standards. Several commenters suggested that other species would be acceptable if those animals could meet nationally recognized behavioral standards for trained service dogs. Other commenters asserted that certain species of animals (e.g., reptiles) cannot be trained to do work or perform tasks, so these animals would not be covered.
In the NPRM, the Department used the term ‘‘common domestic animal” in the service animal definition and excluded reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including horses, miniature horses, ponies, pigs, and goats), ferrets, amphibians, and rodents from the service animal definition. 73 FR 34466, 34478 (June 17, 2008). However, the term ‘‘common domestic animal” is difficult to define with precision due to the increase in the number of domesticated species. Also, several State and local laws define a ‘‘domestic” animal as an animal that is not wild. The Department agrees with commenters’ views that limiting the number and types of species recognized as service animals will provide greater predictability for State and local government entities as well as added assurance of access for individuals with disabilities who use dogs as service animals. As a consequence, the Department has decided to limit this rule’s coverage of service animals to dogs, which are the most common service animals used by individuals with disabilities.
Wild animals, monkeys, and other nonhuman primates. Numerous business entities endorsed a narrow definition of acceptable service animal species, and asserted that there are certain animals (e.g., reptiles) that cannot be trained to do work or perform tasks. Other commenters suggested that the Department should identify excluded animals, such as birds and llamas, in the final rule. Although one commenter noted that wild animals bred in captivity should be permitted to be service animals, the Department has decided to make clear that all wild animals, whether born or bred in captivity or in the wild, are eliminated from coverage as service animals. The Department believes that this approach reduces risks to health or safety attendant with wild animals. Some animals, such as certain nonhuman primates including certain monkeys, pose a direct threat; their behavior can be unpredictably aggressive and violent without notice or provocation. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) issued a position statement advising against the use of monkeys as service animals, stating that ‘‘[t]he AVMA does not support the use of nonhuman primates as assistance animals because of animal welfare concerns, and the potential for serious injury and zoonotic [animal to human disease transmission] risks.” AVMA Position Statement, Nonhuman Primates as Assistance Animals, (2005) available at http://www.avma.org/issues/policy/ nonhuman_primates.asp (last visited June 24, 2010).
An organization that trains capuchin monkeys to provide in-home services to individuals with paraplegia and quadriplegia was in substantial agreement with the AVMA’s views but requested a limited recognition in the service animal definition for the capuchin monkeys it trains to provide assistance for persons with disabilities. The organization commented that its trained capuchin monkeys undergo scrupulous veterinary examinations to ensure that the animals pose no health risks, and are used by individuals with disabilities exclusively in their homes. The organization acknowledged that the capuchin monkeys it trains are not necessarily suitable for use in State or local government facilities. The organization noted that several State and local government entities have local zoning, licensing, health, and safety laws that prohibit nonhuman primates, and that these prohibitions would prevent individuals with disabilities from using these animals even in their homes.
The organization argued that including capuchin monkeys under the service animal umbrella would make it easier for individuals with disabilities to obtain reasonable modifications of State and local licensing, health, and safety laws that would permit the use of these monkeys. The organization argued that this limited modification to the service animal definition was warranted in view of the services these monkeys perform, which enable many individuals with paraplegia and quadriplegia to live and function with increased independence.
The Department has carefully considered the potential risks associated with the use of nonhuman primates as service animals in State and local government facilities, as well as the information provided to the Department about the significant benefits that trained capuchin monkeys provide to certain individuals with disabilities in residential settings. The Department has determined, however, that nonhuman primates, including capuchin monkeys, will not be recognized as service animals for purposes of this rule because of their potential for disease transmission and unpredictable aggressive behavior. The Department believes that these characteristics make nonhuman primates unsuitable for use as service animals in the context of the wide variety of public settings subject to this rule. As the organization advocating the inclusion of capuchin monkeys acknowledges, capuchin monkeys are not suitable for use in public facilities.
The Department emphasizes that it has decided only that capuchin monkeys will not be included in the definition of service animals for purposes of its regulation implementing the ADA. This decision does not have any effect on the extent to which public entities are required to allow the use of such monkeys under other Federal statutes. For example, under the FHAct, an individual with a disability may have the right to have an animal other than a dog in his or her home if the animal qualifies as a ‘‘reasonable accommodation” that is necessary to afford the individual equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, assuming that the use of the animal does not pose a direct threat. In some cases, the right of an individual to have an animal under the FHAct may conflict with State or local laws that prohibit all individuals, with or without disabilities, from owning a particular species. However, in this circumstance, an individual who wishes to request a reasonable modification of the State or local law must do so under the FHAct, not the ADA.
Having considered all of the comments about which species should qualify as service animals under the ADA, the Department has determined the most reasonable approach is to limit acceptable species to dogs.
Size or weight limitations. The vast majority of commenters did not support a size or weight limitation. Commenters were typically opposed to a size or weight limit because many tasks performed by service animals require large, strong dogs. For instance, service animals may perform tasks such as providing balance and support or pulling a wheelchair. Small animals may not be suitable for large adults. The weight of the service animal user is often correlated with the size and weight of the service animal. Others were concerned that adding a size and weight limit would further complicate the difficult process of finding an appropriate service animal. One commenter noted that there is no need for a limit because ‘‘if, as a practical matter, the size or weight of an individual’s service animal creates a direct threat or fundamental alteration to a particular public entity or accommodation, there are provisions that allow for the animal’s exclusion or removal.” Some common concerns among commenters in support of a size and weight limit were that a larger animal may be less able to fit in various areas with its handler, such as toilet rooms and public seating areas, and that larger animals are more difficult to control.
Balancing concerns expressed in favor of and against size and weight limitations, the Department has determined that such limitations would not be appropriate. Many individuals of larger stature require larger dogs. The Department believes it would be inappropriate to deprive these individuals of the option of using a service dog of the size required to provide the physical support and stability these individuals may need to function independently. Since large dogs have always served as service animals, continuing their use should not constitute fundamental alterations or impose undue burdens on title II entities.
Breed limitations. A few commenters suggested that certain breeds of dogs should not be allowed to be used as service animals. Some suggested that the Department should defer to local laws restricting the breeds of dogs that individuals who reside in a community may own. Other commenters opposed breed restrictions, stating that the breed of a dog does not determine its propensity for aggression and that aggressive and non-aggressive dogs exist in all breeds.
The Department does not believe that it is either appropriate or consistent with the ADA to defer to local laws that prohibit certain breeds of dogs based on local concerns that these breeds may have a history of unprovoked aggression or attacks. Such deference would have the effect of limiting the rights of persons with disabilities under the ADA who use certain service animals based on where they live rather than on whether the use of a particular animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. Breed restrictions differ significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions have no breed restrictions. Others have restrictions that, while well-meaning, have the unintended effect of screening out the very breeds of dogs that have successfully served as service animals for decades without a history of the type of unprovoked aggression or attacks that would pose a direct threat, e.g., German Shepherds. Other jurisdictions prohibit animals over a certain weight, thereby restricting breeds without invoking an express breed ban. In addition, deference to breed restrictions contained in local laws would have the unacceptable consequence of restricting travel by an individual with a disability who uses a breed that is acceptable and poses no safety hazards in the individual’s home jurisdiction but is nonetheless banned by other jurisdictions. State and local government entities have the ability to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a particular service animal can be excluded based on that particular animal’s actual behavior or history—not based on fears or generalizations about how an animal or breed might behave. This ability to exclude an animal whose behavior or history evidences a direct threat is sufficient to protect health and safety.
Recognition of psychiatric service animals but not ‘‘emotional support animals.” The definition of ‘‘service animal” in the NPRM stated the Department’s longstanding position that emotional support animals are not included in the definition of ‘‘service animal.” The proposed text in § 35.104 provided that ‘‘[a]nimals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals.” 73 FR 34466, 34504 (June 17, 2008).
Many advocacy organizations expressed concern and disagreed with the exclusion of comfort and emotional support animals. Others have been more specific, stating that individuals with disabilities may need their emotional support animals in order to have equal access. Some commenters noted that individuals with disabilities use animals that have not been trained to perform tasks directly related to their disability. These animals do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. These are emotional support or comfort animals.
Commenters asserted that excluding categories such as ‘‘comfort” and ‘‘emotional support” animals recognized by laws such as the FHAct or the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is confusing and burdensome. Other commenters noted that emotional support and comfort animals perform an important function, asserting that animal companionship helps individuals who experience depression resulting from multiple sclerosis.
Some commenters explained the benefits emotional support animals provide, including emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, and the promotion of emotional well-being. They contended that without the presence of an emotional support animal in their lives they would be disadvantaged and unable to participate in society. These commenters were concerned that excluding this category of animals will lead to discrimination against, and the excessive questioning of, individuals with non-visible or non-apparent disabilities. Other commenters expressing opposition to the exclusion of individually trained ‘‘comfort” or ‘‘emotional support” animals asserted that the ability to soothe or de-escalate and control emotion is ‘‘work” that benefits the individual with the disability.
Many commenters requested that the Department carve out an exception that permits current or former members of the military to use emotional support animals. They asserted that a significant number of service members returning from active combat duty have adjustment difficulties due to combat, sexual assault, or other traumatic experiences while on active duty. Commenters noted that some current or former members of the military service have been prescribed animals for conditions such as PTSD. One commenter stated that service women who were sexually assaulted while in the military use emotional support animals to help them feel safe enough to step outside their homes. The Department recognizes that many current and former members of the military have disabilities as a result of service-related injuries that may require emotional support and that such individuals can benefit from the use of an emotional support animal and could use such animal in their home under the FHAct. However, having carefully weighed the issues, the Department believes that its final rule appropriately addresses the balance of issues and concerns of both the individual with a disability and the public entity. The Department also notes that nothing in this part prohibits a public entity from allowing current or former military members or anyone else with disabilities to utilize emotional support animals if it wants to do so.
Commenters asserted the view that if an animal’s ‘‘mere presence” legitimately provides such benefits to an individual with a disability and if those benefits are necessary to provide equal opportunity given the facts of the particular disability, then such an animal should qualify as a ‘‘service animal.” Commenters noted that the focus should be on the nature of a person’s disability, the difficulties the disability may impose and whether the requested accommodation would legitimately address those difficulties, not on evaluating the animal involved. The Department understands this approach has benefitted many individuals under the FHAct and analogous State law provisions, where the presence of animals poses fewer health and safety issues, and where emotional support animals provide assistance that is unique to residential settings. The Department believes, however, that the presence of such animals is not required in the context of title II entities such as courthouses, State and local government administrative buildings, and similar title II facilities.
Under the Department’s previous regulatory framework, some individuals and entities assumed that the requirement that service animals must be individually trained to do work or perform tasks excluded all individuals with mental disabilities from having service animals. Others assumed that any person with a psychiatric condition whose pet provided comfort to them was covered by the 1991 title II regulation. The Department reiterates that psychiatric service animals that are trained to do work or perform a task for individuals whose disability is covered by the ADA are protected by the Department’s present regulatory approach. Psychiatric service animals can be trained to perform a variety of tasks that assist individuals with disabilities to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and ameliorate their effects. Tasks performed by psychiatric service animals may include reminding the individual to take medicine, providing safety checks or room searches for persons with PTSD, interrupting self-mutilation, and removing disoriented individuals from dangerous situations.
The difference between an emotional support animal and a psychiatric service animal is the work or tasks that the animal performs. Traditionally, service dogs worked as guides for individuals who were blind or had low vision. Since the original regulation was promulgated, service animals have been trained to assist individuals with many different types of disabilities.
In the final rule, the Department has retained its position on the exclusion of emotional support animals from the definition of ‘‘service animal.” The definition states that ‘‘[t]he provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship, * * * do[es] not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.” The Department notes, however, that the exclusion of emotional support animals from coverage in the final rule does not mean that individuals with psychiatric or mental disabilities cannot use service animals that meet the regulatory definition. The final rule defines service animal as follows: ‘‘[s]ervice animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” This language simply clarifies the Department’s longstanding position.
The Department’s position is based on the fact that the title II and title III regulations govern a wider range of public settings than the housing and transportation settings for which the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and DOT regulations allow emotional support animals or comfort animals. The Department recognizes that there are situations not governed by the title II and title III regulations, particularly in the context of residential settings and transportation, where there may be a legal obligation to permit the use of animals that do not qualify as service animals under the ADA, but whose presence nonetheless provides necessary emotional support to persons with disabilities. Accordingly, other Federal agency regulations, case law, and possibly State or local laws governing those situations may provide appropriately for increased access for animals other than service animals as defined under the ADA. Public officials, housing providers, and others who make decisions relating to animals in residential and transportation settings should consult the Federal, State, and local laws that apply in those areas (e.g., the FHAct regulations of HUD and the ACAA) and not rely on the ADA as a basis for reducing those obligations.
Retain term ‘‘service animal.” Some commenters asserted that the term ‘‘assistance animal” is a term of art and should replace the term ‘‘service animal.” However, the majority of commenters preferred the term ‘‘service animal” because it is more specific. The Department has decided to retain the term ‘‘service animal” in the final rule. While some agencies, like HUD, use the term ‘‘assistance animal,” ‘‘assistive animal,” or ‘‘support animal,” these terms are used to denote a broader category of animals than is covered by the ADA. The Department has decided that changing the term used in the final rule would create confusion, particularly in view of the broader parameters for coverage under the FHAct, cf., preamble to HUD’s Final Rule for Pet Ownership for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities, 73 FR 63834–38 (Oct. 27, 2008); HUD Handbook No. 4350.3 Rev–1, Chapter 2, Occupancy Requirements of Subsidized Multifamily Housing Programs (June 2007), available at http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/ hudclips/handbooks/hsgh/4350.3 (last visited June 24, 2010). Moreover, as discussed above, the Department’s definition of ‘‘service animal” in the title II final rule does not affect the rights of individuals with disabilities who use assistance animals in their homes under the FHAct or who use ‘‘emotional support animals” that are covered under the ACAA and its implementing regulations. See 14 CFR 382.7 et seq.; see also Department of Transportation, Guidance Concerning Service Animals in Air Transportation, 68 FR 24874, 24877 (May 9, 2003) (discussing accommodation of service animals and emotional support animals on aircraft).
Posted December 30, 2019
Kevin W. Williams
CCDC Civil Rights Legal Program Director (a.k.a. “froggy voice” on this particular occasion)