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Web extra: Frequently asked questions surrounding service and emotional support animals

News 5 Investigates showed you how average citizens without true disabilities are able to pay money to certify their animals as “emotional support pets”.

The Independence Center is spearheading efforts to educate both consumers and business owners about the differences between support animals and actual service animals through seminars.

Disability advocates say they have tried unsuccessfully to get the U.S. Department of Justice to clarify laws and regulate the industry.

Below is a list of frequently asked questions and answers provided by The Independence Center and Civil Rights Division of the USDOJ:

What is a service animal? 

Answer: A dog or miniature horse that has been trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability

What is an emotional support animal? 

Answer: Emotional support animals are not considered service animals under the ADA. Support animals, AKA comfort animals, help people with depression, anxiety and certain phobias, but does not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.

If someone’s dog calms them when having an anxiety attach, does this qualify it as a service animal? 

Answer: It depends. The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal.

Does the ADA require service animals to be professional trained? 

Answer: No. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program. However, disability advocates say the majority of service dogs do go through extensive training to ensure they are qualified to perform the task/mission they are supposed to accomplish.

Are service animals in training considered service animals under the ADA? 

Answer: No. Under the ADA, the dog must already be trained before it can be taken into public places. However, some State and local laws cover animals that are still in training. You should reach out to your local ADA advocacy center for clarification on the laws in your state.

What questions can someone ask to determine if a dog is a service animal? 

Answer: You can only ask two questions. (1) Is this a service animal? (2) What is it trained to do?

Do service animals have to wear a vest, patch or special harness identifying them as service animals? 

Answer: No. The ADA does not require this.

Can a person bring a service animal with them as they go through a salad bar or other self-service food line? 

Answer: Yes. Service animals must be allowed to accompany their handlers to and through self-service food lines.

Can hotels assign designated rooms for guests with service animals out of consideration for other guests? 

Answer: No. A guest with a disability who uses a service animal must be provided the same opportunity to reserve any available room at the hotel as other guests without disabilities. They may not be restricted to “pet friendly” rooms.

Can hotels charge a cleaning fee for guests who have service animals? 

Answer: No. Hotels are not permitted to charge guests for cleaning the hair or danger shed by a service animal. However, if a service animal damages a guest room, a hotel is permitted to charge fees to make repairs.

Can people bring more than one service animal into a public place? 

Answer: Generally, yes. Some people with disabilities may use more than one service animal to perform different tasks.

Does a hospital have to allow an in-patient with a disability to keep a service animal in his/her room? 

Answer: Service animals must be allowed in patient rooms and anywhere else in the hospital the public and patients are allowed to go.

Does the ADA require that service animals be certified as service animals? 

Answer: No. Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a service animal as a condition of entry.

My city requires all dogs be vaccinated. Does this apply to my service animal?

Answer: Yes.

My city requires me to register my dog as a service animal. Is this legal under the ADA? 

Answer: No. Mandatory registration of service animals is not permissible under the ADA.

My city requires me to register my dog as a service animal. Is this legal under the ADA? 

Answer: No. Mandatory registration of service animals is not permissible under the ADA. However, as stated above, service animals are subject to the same licensing and vaccination rules that are applied to all dogs.

My city / college offers a voluntary registry program for people with disabilities who use service animals and provides a special tag identifying the dogs as service animals. Is this legal under the ADA?

Answer: Yes. Colleges and other entities, such as local governments, may offer voluntary registries. Many communities maintain a voluntary registry that serves a public purpose, for example, to ensure that emergency staff know to look for service animals during an emergency evacuation process. Some offer a benefit, such as a reduced dog license fee, for individuals who register their service animals. Registries for purposes like this are permitted under the ADA. An entity may not, however, require that a dog be registered as a service animal as a condition of being permitted in public places. This would be a violation of the ADA.

Can service animals be any breed of dog? 
Answer: Yes. The ADA does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals.

Can individuals with disabilities be refused access to a facility based solely on the breed of their service animal?
Answer: No. A service animal may not be excluded based on assumptions or stereotypes about the animal’s breed or how the animal might behave. However, if a particular service animal behaves in a way that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, has a history of such behavior, or is not under the control of the handler, that animal may be excluded. If an animal is excluded for such reasons, staff must still offer their goods or services to the person without the animal present.

If a municipality has an ordinance that bans certain dog breeds, does the ban apply to service animals?
Answer: No. Municipalities that prohibit specific breeds of dogs must make an exception for a service animal of a prohibited breed, unless the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. Under the “direct threat” provisions of the ADA, local jurisdictions need to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a particular service animal can be excluded based on that particular animal’s actual behavior or history, but they may not exclude a service animal because of fears or generalizations about how an animal or breed might behave.  It is important to note that breed restrictions differ significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  In fact, some jurisdictions have no breed restrictions.

When can service animals be excluded?
Answer: The ADA does not require covered entities to modify policies, practices, or procedures if it would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public, nor does it overrule legitimate safety requirements. If admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited. In addition, if a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if it is not housebroken, that animal may be excluded.

When might a service dog’s presence fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program provided to the public?
Answer: In most settings, the presence of a service animal will not result in a fundamental alteration. However, there are some exceptions. For example, at a boarding school, service animals could be restricted from a specific area of a dormitory reserved specifically for students with allergies to dog dander. At a zoo, service animals can be restricted from areas where the animals on display are the natural prey or natural predators of dogs, where the presence of a dog would be disruptive, causing the displayed animals to behave aggressively or become agitated. They cannot be restricted from other areas of the zoo.

What does under control mean?  Do service animals have to be on a leash?  Do they have to be quiet and not bark?
Answer: The ADA requires that service animals be under the control of the handler at all times. In most instances, the handler will be the individual with a disability or a third party who accompanies the individual with a disability. In the school (K-12) context and in similar settings, the school or similar entity may need to provide some assistance to enable a particular student to handle his or her service animal. The service animal must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered while in public places unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the person’s disability prevents use of these devices. In that case, the person must use voice, signal, or other effective means to maintain control of the animal. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair may use a long, retractable leash to allow her service animal to pick up or retrieve items. She may not allow the dog to wander away from her and must maintain control of the dog, even if it is retrieving an item at a distance from her. Or, a returning veteran who has PTSD and has great difficulty entering unfamiliar spaces may have a dog that is trained to enter a space, check to see that no threats are there, and come back and signal that it is safe to enter. The dog must be off leash to do its job, but may be leashed at other times. Under control also means that a service animal should not be allowed to bark repeatedly in a lecture hall, theater, library, or other quiet place. However, if a dog barks just once, or barks because someone has provoked it, this would not mean that the dog is out of control.

What can my staff do when a service animal is being disruptive?
Answer: If a service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, staff may request that the animal be removed from the premises.

Are hotel guests allowed to leave their service animals in their hotel room when they leave the hotel?
Answer: No, the dog must be under the handler’s control at all times.

What happens if a person thinks a covered entity’s staff has discriminated against him or her?
Answer: Individuals who believe that they have been illegally denied access or service because they use service animals may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. Individuals also have the right to file a private lawsuit in Federal court charging the entity with discrimination under the ADA.

Are stores required to allow service animals to be placed in a shopping cart? 
Answer: Generally, the dog must stay on the floor, or the person must carry the dog. For example, if a person with diabetes has a glucose alert dog, he may carry the dog in a chest pack so it can be close to his face to allow the dog to smell his breath to alert him of a change in glucose levels.

Are restaurants, bars, and other places that serve food or drink required to allow service animals to be seated on chairs or allow the animal to be fed at the table? 
Answer: No. Seating, food, and drink are provided for customer use only. The ADA gives a person with a disability the right to be accompanied by his or her service animal, but covered entities are not required to allow an animal to sit or be fed at the table.

Are gyms, fitness centers, hotels, or municipalities that have swimming pools required to allow a service animal in the pool with its handler? 
Answer: No. The ADA does not override public health rules that prohibit dogs in swimming pools. However, service animals must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where the public is allowed to go.

Are churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship required to allow individuals to bring their service animals into the facility? 
Answer: No. Religious institutions and organizations are specifically exempt from the ADA. However, there may be State laws that apply to religious organizations.

Do apartments, mobile home parks, and other residential properties have to comply with the ADA?
Answer: The ADA applies to housing programs administered by state and local governments, such as public housing authorities, and by places of public accommodation, such as public and private universities. In addition, the Fair Housing Act applies to virtually all types of housing, both public and privately-owned, including housing covered by the ADA.  Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are obligated to permit, as a reasonable accommodation, the use of animals that work, provide assistance, or perform tasks that benefit persons with a disabilities, or provide emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability.  For information about these Fair Housing Act requirements see HUD’s Notice on Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-funded Programs.

Do Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, have to comply with the ADA?
Answer: No. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities to participate in Federal programs and services. For information or to file a complaint, contact the agency’s equal opportunity office.

Do commercial airlines have to comply with the ADA?
Answer: No. The Air Carrier Access Act is the Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities in air travel.  For information or to file a complaint, contact the U.S. Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division, at 202-366-2220.​

Regarding your news story, did any businesses ask you to leave when you walked in with an emotional support pig? 

Answer: No. Business owners have full rights to deny access to emotional support animals and had we been asked to leave, we would have gladly complied with that request.

What happened to the psychologist who “prescribed” an emotional support pig to your KOAA employee? 

Answer: The Board of Psychologist Examiners has opened an investigation. We’ll keep you posted on what happens.

Were any of your employees involved in this experiment interviewed by the psychologist prior to the emotional support letter being granted? 

Answer: No. No one from our staff was contacted in writing, via email or over the phone to “evaluate” our approval status.

Did you reach out the psychologist for comment? I didn’t see or hear from him in the story. 

Answer: An email sent directly to the doctor was not returned. The physical address on the doctor’s note appears to be linked to a mail center in Denver, not an actual doctor’s office. From the research we’ve conducted, it appears the doctor may be reside in California.

Why did you mention the doctor’s name in your story when you initially kept it hidden on Twitter? 

Answer: We did not broadcast the doctor’s name until the State confirmed an active investigation. At that point, his name was publicized.

What questions were you asked during the “pre-qualification” stage of the alleged screening process?

Answer:  We were asked a total of five yes/no questions.

(1) Have you experienced signs and symptoms of depression in the last 6 months?
(2) Have you experienced significant anxiety or panic in the last 6 months?
(3) Are you currently experiencing significant stress or difficulty adjusting to a major life change?
(4) Is your stress or mood impacting your social, occupational, or educational performance or ability to engage in these activities?
(5) Have you experienced a major life change in the last 6 months?

Did you have to answer “yes” to all 5 questions in order to get approved? 

Answer: No. After further examination, as long as we said “yes” to one of the above questions, we were authorized to move forward to the registration process. The only way you cannot move on to the registration process is to answer “no” to all of the questions.

Did you provide the web site with your actual name and contact information so they could contact you just in case they wanted to set up an in-person or over the phone screening? 

Answer: Yes, we provided the actual name of a KOAA employee and also provided a valid telephone number, email, and address that we could be reached.

Being a news agency, did you get to register the pig as an emotional support animal for free or get a refund after the story aired? 

Answer: Absolutely not. We do not get special treatment because we are a news agency. We went through the standard registration process and paid the same fees that are charged to regular members of the public. We also did not request or demand a refund after the story aired.

How many online web sites did you visit and pay for a support animal letter? How did you choose these web sites?

Answer: We used a “Google” search to look for support animal registry web sites. We only had a $200 budget for this project and therefore, did not submit applications to multiple different sites (although we know they exist). The first web site said it could not register any animal other than a dog or cat due to “negative publicity”, but the second web site we visited certified our potbelly pig without any issues. The cost was $150 and we paid an extra $25 for expedited processing for a paper copy of the approval letters.

Will you be doing any story updates in the future? 

Answer: Yes. The Independence Center of Colorado Springs is currently working on organizing a second seminar geared toward educating business owners about service animals and support animals. We’ll let you know when a seminar date has been scheduled.

Eric Ross

Eric Ross

Eric Ross is the chief investigative reporter/executive producer at News 5. If you have a story idea or news tip, please send an email to eross@KOAA.com or call 719-228-6275.
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