This time of year is often called the “Dog Days of Summer.” In the northern hemisphere, it’s the hottest and, depending on the region, most humid time of the year. Some people think the dog days refer to days so hot, they’re “not fit for a dog.” But the name actually comes from Sirius, the Dog Star, which is prominent in the sky this time of year in the constellation Canis Major (the Greater Dog). With Sirius high in the sky, it’s a good time to talk about service animals and the “starring” role they can play in supporting the independence and participation of people with disabilities.
What Is a Service Animal?
According to the NIDILRR-funded ADA National Network, service animals, most often dogs, are individually trained to perform tasks directly related to a person’s disability. Tasks can include guiding, alerting to sounds, pulling a wheelchair, providing physical support for balance and stability, opening doors, and retrieving objects. They can also be trained to alert a person who has a seizure disorder, interrupt impulsive or destructive behaviors, and provide safety checks for a person with PTSD. These are just a few examples of tasks service animals can perform.
What Rights and Responsibilities Cover Service Animals?
In the US, service animal teams, that is a service animal and its handler, have rights protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws. Generally, they are allowed to go wherever the public is allowed to go, and, with some exceptions, places of public accommodation must modify their policies or services to allow a service animal to accompany their person. They can only be asked to confirm that the service animal is needed because of a disability and what work or tasks the animal has been trained to perform. While service animals are trained, there is no certification for a service animal, nor are they required to wear vests or signs that identify their status.
What About Emotional Support and Therapy Animals?
Some animals provide emotional support, helping individuals manage symptoms like anxiety, provide companionship, and alleviate loneliness. Therapy animals may provide comfort and healing contact, especially in clinical settings or in emergencies. While these animals may have received extensive training, they are not trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a disability. Emotional support animals may be covered under the ADA as a reasonable accommodation in the workplace or under some housing laws, but they do not have the same protected status as service animal teams under the ADA.
Where Can I Learn More About Service Animals?
The NIDILRR-funded ADA National Network and its regional centers provide comprehensive information about the ADA, including the rights of service animal teams and the responsibilities of public entities to accommodate them:
- Service Animal Resource Hub – learn the basics about service animals; taking service animals to work, travel, school, or emergency shelter; living with a service animal; service vs. support animals; and information for small business owners and others. Don’t miss the excellent fact sheet covering service animal misconceptions!
- Service Animals in Public Spaces – a toolkit to help small business owners and other public entities learn about service animal teams, how they interact in the community, the benefits of access, and service animal etiquette. Each module features real-life scenarios, a playbook, and a quiz to test your knowledge.
- Service Animals and the ADA and Service Animals in the Workplace – these free online courses cover the basics of service animal teams and rights and responsibilities under the ADA, as well as scenarios in and out of the workplace.
- Service Animals and Transit Systems – a short video for transit providers covers the basics, including the important differences between service and support animals.
We highlighted NIDILRR-funded research on service animal teams in our Research In Focus series with the article What are Key Factors in Successfully Integrating Service Dogs in the Workplace? We also highlighted the use of service animals by people with mobility disabilities as a strategy for staying independent as you age in People Aging with Mobility Disabilities Share Common Challenges and Strategies for Success.
Elsewhere in the community, you may find these resources helpful:
- Information on assistance animals (both service and emotional support animals) and housing laws from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- Guide and service dog resources from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Information on service animals and how they are covered under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) from the Department of Transportation.
- Accommodating a service animal team in an office environment from the Office of Personal Management.
- COVID-19 guidance for service and therapy animal teams from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Planning a national park visit with a service animal from the National Park Service.
Browse through abstracts from the NARIC collection of research literature on service animals, including studies of the impact of service dogs on children and their families, barriers to inclusion of service dog teams in science laboratories, service dogs for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder, and much more!