Service Animal Rights
The use of dogs to assist a disabled individual formally began in 1929, with the incorporation of The Seeing Eye organization to train guide dogs for the blind. By the mid-1970s, dogs were being trained to assist deaf individuals as well and, from that, the value of training dogs to perform other tasks became more and more common. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted and included, among other provisions, prohibitions on discrimination in public accommodations and transportation. (Public Law 101-336, Title II and III) As such, there are legal prohibitions against discrimination for disabled individuals and protections for the accommodations needed to allow full access to public accommodations, which can include private businesses open to the general public and housing. There also are a multitude of misunderstandings, as well, as to what the ADA requires of business owners with respect to service animals.
The ADA defines a service animal (specifically a dog, although through a recent amendment to ADA regulations, miniature horses now are included) as one that is individually trained to do work or perform specific tasks for a person with a disability, and that task must be tied to the specific disability. These tasks can include providing guidance to the blind, alerting the deaf to specific sounds, alerting to an oncoming seizure and calming (by specific trained methods) someone with PTSD. Some dogs are trained to interrupt the repetitive motions an autistic individual might be making, such as hand flapping, or distract and protect an individual engaged in destructive activities. Specifically, however, under ADA, it does not include the category of Emotional Support Animals who provide more generalized comfort, without performing any specific trained tasks, such as therapy dogs or comfort dogs. (Note that such animals do, however, enjoy a measure of support under the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act — which have broader definitions of service animal than ADA.)
As far back as 1966, Kentucky law has acknowledged the value of providing protections to individuals with assistance animals as well. At that early date, of course, only guide dogs for the blind would have been anticipated. As both federal law and state law evolved, protections for such animals kept pace, providing for equivalent laws on the state level. At the current time, assistance animals are covered in Kentucky under KRS 258.500. As is always the case in the law, however, definitions are important. Although federal law and most commercially sold signage uses the term service animal, the proper term in Kentucky is assistance dog. The protections of the state law extend to individuals with a disability, as defined in KRS 210.770(2) as “someone with a physical or mental impairment and includes individuals who have a record or history of an impairment or are regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” In effect, this protection mirrors that available under the ADA.
It would not be uncommon for a law enforcement officer to respond to a situation where a service animal is present. If there is a question about the status of a particular dog, a few questions should be kept in mind. When there is a dispute, first, it should be noted, the service animal must be in the control of the individual it is serving, usually by the use of a leash, unless the task performed by the dog would be compromised by it. In all cases, the dog must be in the individual’s verbal or physical control. A misbehaving dog, one that is destructive, barking excessively, not housebroken or behaving in an aggressive manner may be legally removed from a location. If it is not obvious what service a dog provides, only two questions may be asked: (1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? (2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? There are no nationally recognized credentials for service dogs, nor are they required to wear an identifying vest or special harness, although many do. A fear of dogs or allergies are not a valid reason to have a service animal removed from a public location, nor are health codes that otherwise prohibit animals. Local breed-specific laws also do not apply to service dogs. Religious or cultural objections to dogs, or a simple dislike of dogs, also do not apply.
A few provisions are of particular interest. KRS 258.500(11) provides that emergency medical treatment shall not be denied to an assistance dog, even if the owner is unable to pay initially. It does not, however, indicate who is obligated to provide such treatment. This issue might arise, for example, if an individual is involved in a wreck and their dog also is injured and needs treatment. Trainers of assistance dogs generally are accorded the ability to take dogs in training into public locations, although they must also keep the animal under control and ensure they are sufficiently housebroken and trained so as to behave in public. Under KRS 258.500(7), trainers must carry personal identification that indicates they are trainers, usually provided by the employing agency. (It is critical to socialize potential assistance dogs to all possible environments, and to accustom them to being in public.)
Of course, a child with a service animal is permitted to have the dog at school. Further, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Pub. L. 101-476, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Pub. L. 93-112, a student might be permitted to have an animal that does not meet the ADA definition, if it is part of the child’s Individual Education Plan. The animal must, of course, be housebroken, trained and responsive to the child’s control.
Service animals provide a way for those with disabilities to lead a fulfilling life, with the dog providing mobility, independence and, in some case, even life-saving protections, to the owner. Enforcing the law and facilitating through misunderstandings, often fall to law enforcement. It is essential that officers understand what the law provides and does not provide, in such cases, and that the officer is prepared to provide correct information to all parties involved.