Today we’re reporting on a guide dog in training at Green Mountain Elementary School that called on Central Kitsap School District to examine its policy on service animals. District officials agreed that Bridget, a 7-month-old yellow lab, did not fit the definition of a service animal because she is not yet trained and or assigned to a person with a disability. For lack of a policy, the dog, who has many fans at the school, was banned from the classroom from November through late January. A revised policy allows for guide dogs in training at the discretion of the school principal with a written agreement.
Covering this story got me to wondering what does qualify as a service animal, especially since I have heard about miniature horses used to help people with disabilities. Just how does the Americans with Disabilities Act define “reasonable accommodation?”
Service animals perform many tasks from guiding the blind, alerting people are who are deaf, and calming a person with PTSD to pulling a wheelchair and protecting a person who is having a seizure, according to the ADA.
A revision to the ADA effective in 2011 refined and clarified the definition of “service animal” in light of wider use of service dogs and the advent of using miniature horses to perform tasks for people with disabilities.
As of the revision, only dogs are recognized as service animals under Title II of the ADA (state and local government services) and Title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities). A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Generally, under Title II and III, service animals are allowed to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where the public is allowed to go.
A person with a disability may not be asked to remove his dog from premises unless it is out of control and the handler doesn’t take immediate, effective action, or if it is not housebroken.
Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals.
Dogs not specifically trained to perform tasks related to a disability, but whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA, but are recognized under the broader definition of “assistance animal.” The Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Act allows for assistance animals as a “reasonable accommodation” where housing facility rules would otherwise prohibit them.
Miniature horses, which range in height from 24 to 30 inches at the shoulders and from 70 to 100 pounds in weight, have their own regulations. Entities, like schools, covered by the ADA must modify their policies to permit miniature horses as service animals “where reasonable.” A four-part test determines what’s reasonable: whether the horse is housebroken; whether it is under the owner’s control; whether the facility can accommodate the animals size, type and weight; and whether the miniature horse’s presence “will not compromise legitimate safety requirements” for operating the facility.