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Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals, and Guide Dogs

Service and emotional support dogs are specially trained animals that assist people with physical disabilities by performing life tasks they cannot do for themselves. US laws recognize that these animals are an important part of many individuals’ lives.

support dog certification

Service animals aren’t restricted in the same way that ordinary pets are. Any business discriminating against someone who has a service animal may get charged with a misdemeanor. A business can verify that the animal is a service animal and not a pet by asking what tasks the animal performs, but the business is not allowed to require documentation of any kind. Businesses must not charge a fee for a service animal to enter the establishment even if there is a fee for pets to access the area.

People requiring service animals can’t be denied housing or employment due to their service animal. A service animal’s owner is liable for any damages or injuries caused by the animal just as if it were a regular pet in any public or private place. Job seekers may still be denied employment if their disability prevents them from fulfilling their job duties.

emotional support animal documentation

Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals, and Guide Dogs

How Should You Act Around a Service Dog?

How should you act around a service dog?

A person's natural instinct is to pet and play with dogs.

Unfortunately, we must all respect the vest or cape of the service dog and ignore the dog as much as possible. That means not petting it, touching it, distracting it, talking to it, teasing it, or especially feeding it.

So, how should you act? Really the best way and only recommended way is by totally ignoring the dog the same way you would politely ignore a wheelchair or cane.

A service dog that is not ignored may become "ruined" and unusable by its owner, and given that service dogs are both very hard to find for specific conditions and extremely expensive (typically averaging $15,000 each) this can be devastating for the dog's owner.

By violating this etiquette, you have also just helped contribute to the person's loss of freedom and possibly made it necessary for the owner to give up the dog, which would be heartbreaking, and for the person to require the use of a Personal Care Attendant (PCA)—another person shadowing them all the time—to provide some of the services that the dog used to perform.

Service Dog Basics for the Public

Do you have a hard time working around a service dog?

It's very hard for some people to be around service dogs and service dogs in-training because a person's natural instinct is to pet and play with dogs, especially the healthy well-kept dogs who work as service dogs.

Unfortunately, we must all respect the vest or cape of the service dog and ignore the dog as much as possible rather than petting it, touching it, distracting it, talking to it or teasing it, or even looking at it.

When the cape/vest is on, the dog is working

After all, whenever the cape is on, the dog is working hard, whether it looks like it to you or not.

Among other things, the dog is working very hard to ignore you and the tiny morsel of food on the floor over there that looks tasty.

The dog is also focused on its handler, remaining alert for any commands, scents, or hand signals for action.

It falls asleep all the time. How is that "working"?

Most service dogs are trained to catch a nap whenever possible during the day to give them the energy they need when their work is most actively needed.

Napping at strategic times, such as lunchtime and meetings, is a type of work essential for them to do their service dog work; the dog is not in any way "falling asleep on the job" in a negative sense.

So, how should you act?

Really the best way is by ignoring the dog the same way you would politely ignore a wheelchair or cane.

The service dog and its handler try to minimize the distraction the dog provides to the public, but the public needs to learn and obey manners with respect to the dog and the disabled person (or dog trainer) also.

Remember that it's not polite to stare, point, or talk about people.

One thing you should never do

It's very impolite to ask why someone uses a service dog because their disability is private health information.

Benefits of service dogs

Service dogs can be of great benefit to people with all sorts of disabilities, including invisible disabilities like diabetes, asthma, vertigo, and psychiatric disabilities.

Don't assume that a person who "looks good" and is with a service dog isn't disabled just because the disability isn't obvious to you.

Bonus: Service dogs are also a calming, friendly presence around the office or place or business.

And finally...

Remember, if a service dog's vest is on they are working.

Service dogs are NOT pets, by law, and interfering with a service dog team is actually a crime in most states.

The same manners that apply to a wheelchair apply to a service dog: that's the easiest way to remember what's right or wrong most of the time.

support dogs

Can School Districts Prevent Autism Service Dogs From Attending School With a Child?

Sadly, some people are asking whether "service animal" laws are being abused by those who want to scam the system.

There have been news stories, articles, opinion pieces and other editorials where people rant and complain about people they believe to be abusing the system. You hear some complain that they had to sit near a dog at a restaurant that they don't believe is a "real" service dog, or others complain that their neighbors have a pet in a "no pet" building because they claimed the animal is an emotional support animal.

Some of the commentary has an indignant tone, and some people are downright angry.

How does this affect those who legitimately own and use a service animal to better their lives? In many ways.

For one, it can it more difficult to navigate bureaucracy of the world when your claim of a disability and your service or emotional support animal's status is questioned. If a landlord or business owner has heard negative stories claiming that some people are abusing the system, it can cause them to look suspiciously at all claimants.

But that percentage of abuse, which in the area of service animal laws is hopefully small, is arguably a very small price to pay when compared to the higher goal of promoting access and equality for all.

In the end, you cannot control any system to make it 100% abuse proof. So tolerating the few people who scam service animal laws is the price we gladly pay to ensure that the disabled in the great state of California have equal access under law.

register dog for emotional support

Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals, and Guide Dogs

I'm often asked how you register or certify your service dog, the answer is "You Don't". Companies that claim to register or certify your animal without training are simply taking advantage of the handicapped to make a dollar. In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect which gives handicapped persons with service animals legal protection to be accompanied by the animal in public places.

Understanding the ADA

So lets first define what a service animal is, According to the ADA, an animal is considered a service animal" if it has been "individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability." As you see, the word certify or registered doesn't appear in the law. As a matter fact the US government does not register, certify, license or approve any animal.

So What's a Service Dog Owner to do?

First, make sure you meet the definition of a disabled person and that your dog is specially trained to perform tasks related to your disability. Trying to pass off your pet as a service animal is a federal offense and comes with severe penalties. Outside of the two requirements spelled out in the ADA you don't have to do anything. If you feel identifying your service dog will make your life easier then purchase a quality photo service dog tag, vest with patches or a cape.