WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT “SERVICE” ANIMALS

By:  Angela Rossi, Esq.

So you want to take your “emotional support” peacock on the plane with you when you fly. Can you? What is a “service” animal, anyway?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act , ” service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” The dog must not be a pet, but be specially trained to assist the handler with something directly related to his or her disability.

Types of Service Dogs

There are many types of service dogs, and some even serve multiple purposes. Here are just a few types of service dogs: Guide Dogs for the blind; Hearing Dogs for deaf or hearing impaired persons; Mobility Assistance Dogs  for wheelchair-bound persons or those with mobility limitations; Seizure Response Dogs  to protect and help persons with seizure disorders when a seizure occurs; Diabetes Assistance Dogs  to detect blood sugar highs and lows (dogs are scent trained); Mental Health Service Dogs or  Psychiatric Service Dogs  are task-trained to assist those with PTSD, panic disorders, anxiety disorders, major depression, Autism Spectrum Disorders and much more.

Examples of work or tasks that a service dog can be trained to perform for someone with a mental disability include: waking someone with clinical depression and coaxing them out of bed at a specified time in the morning; responding to an owner’s panic attack by initiating contact to comfort the individual, and alerting a person exercising poor judgment due to bipolar disorder that they are driving dangerously.

Emotional Support Animals

Distinct from a service dog is the “emotional support animal.” An emotional support animal is a dog or other animal that is not trained to perform specific acts directly related to an individual’s disability. Instead, the animal’s owner derives a sense of well-being, safety, or calm from the animal’s companionship and presence.

Which California Laws Protect Assistance Animals and When

If a person has a disability, they have a right to a service dog in California. [CIV Code Section 54.1(b)(6)(A)]. There are two important things to note about California’s definition of service dogs. First, it is limited to dogs. Second, it is further limited to dogs that are trained to help individuals with their specific requirements. So, no animal other than a dog can qualify as a service animal, even if that animal is trained to assist a person with a disability. Furthermore, even a dog will not qualify as a service dog if it is not trained to help an individual with a disability. It is not merely a pet which provides comfort by its presence.

Knowing and Fraudulent Representation

Before considering the purchase of a “service animal” coat on Amazon, it is important to know the risk of trying to pass off a dog as a service dog. Any person who knowingly and fraudulently represents himself or herself to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as, to be qualified as, or identified as, a guide, signal, or service dog shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment. [PEN § 365.7(a)].

So before you take your emotional support ferret, turtle, or other non-canine pet with you to the airport or a restaurant, be aware of the limitations and definitions of a support animal.

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