Service Dog Laws – Know Your Rights

Something that everyone needs to be aware of is their rights under the law. Especially when you have a disability, regardless of whether or not you have a service dog, laws are there for a reason and you should know yours.

Having a service dog is very helpful for me, but it also comes with the responsibility of being aware of my rights as a person and the laws that are in place to protect me. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to inform people what they are saying to me is incorrect and actually illegal. I am writing about this so that you are aware and hopefully you take this information and learn about your rights.

Per ADA.gov below are the requirements for a service dog in the United States:

  • Beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA.
  • A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
  • Generally, title II and title III entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.

“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. ADA FAQ

The portion about Service Dogs not being pets is a VERY important distinction because “pets” do not have the same laws protecting them. You must think of a Service Dog as medical equipment, it is required for the handler, much in the way a wheelchair is needed for people who are unable to walk. You would not pet someones wheelchair or tell them they cannot bring it into a store because it’s medically needed.

“When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.” ADA Service Dog Requirements

Legally here the only answers I have to provide the staff of where I am located is “yes” and “brace and balance”. The downside to this is that those questions are rarely the ones I get, I get asked if I am training him a lot. The answer to this question is always no, this is an important question though because legally, service dogs in training are not protected by ADA laws.

You cannot be asked to leave or move due to someone else’s allergy or fear of dogs. This is illegal. This gets a bit tricky and very frustrating when you services like Uber or Lyft. I was in California twice and the drivers in San Francisco were less pissy about my service dog than the ones in San Diego. The driver is legally allowed to tell you they will not take you in their car if they have an allergy, though they have to get you another ride and there is no way to actually confirm they have an allergy or just don’t want dog hair in their car. I had this happen in both locations, once the driver in San Diego told me to keep my dog on the floor of his very small sedan in which his seat went back all the way so my husband had to sit in the front with his knees in his chest so I could put Oak on the floor. It would be helpful if there was a way to indicate on your request that you have a service dog so you could get an SUV with no additional cost so there is a place to put them while allowing everyone to sit comfortably.

Per the ADA laws, you are not required to have your service dog in a vest; I do because I signed a contract with Freedom Service Dogs and Oak was trained to know he is working when wearing the vest so for him it’s important. You are not required to have an ID or paperwork proving your dog is a service dog. Do not let a business tell you otherwise.

I had an issue last year at my youngest son’s school. I was invited to have lunch with him, he was so excited. Oak and I showed up to school and went through the lunch line to get our lunches, I got some dirty looks from one of the women working there. She made a comment about how she didn’t know if Oak was allowed. I informed her he was indeed allowed, apparently later she asked questions about me and my disability to the school nurse who is very much aware of my situation because she’s nice and I share information with nice people. The nurse also informed the woman that my service dog is allowed. After lunch we went outside to play, at a different teacher told me my dog was not allowed on school property. I advised her that he is a service dog and actually is legally allowed to be there. She gave me some attitude at which time I chose to leave because I was getting very angry. I told my son that I enjoyed having lunch with him but was going to leave so I didn’t ruin his recess by getting into an argument with a person who doesn’t know the law.

People who work at schools should be informed of the laws, chances are they may not have to deal with service dogs, but just in case, they should not be ignorant. A few days later, after I cooled down, I gave business cards with ADA law to the front desk and the school nurse and advised them to enlighten the employees because I did not appreciate what I had to deal with that day.

Having a chronic illness is exhausting, I have enough with trying to be a mom, wife and full-time employee. I do not need the extra stress that comes with ignorance, and neither do other people. Knowing your rights is important, standing up for those rights is even more important. While taking on the task of teaching other people the law is not something that I enjoy, I will do it because I am hoping it makes it easier for someone else in the future. If I can help one person from having the experience I did then I will continue to do it.

The Road to Deciding to Get a Service Dog for My Multiple Sclerosis

Let me start by saying, as of the writing of this blog, I am not receiving any sort of compensation for my opinions so when you hear me talk about Freedom Service Dogs, it is because they are near and dear to my heart and I believe in what they do.

If this is the first post of mine you are reading, then hi and welcome. I have Multiple Sclerosis, it sucks, it sucks pretty hard some days to the extent that I would love it if it was a person I could kick in the teeth. My story of how I came to the decision to apply for a service dog was a very difficult one and I do not enjoy sharing it so hang in there.

Winter of 2015, one year after my official diagnosis, and a few months after I was violently rear-ended in a car accident that resulted in torn hip cartilage that required the use of a walker my husband and I took our kids to the local indoor mall to see Santa. As you can imagine, the mall was filled wall to wall with an insane amount of people and we were trying to leave through the crowd, I encouraged my husband to take the boys ahead of me because I was slow and he hates crowds as much as I do.

As I slowly made my way through the crowd I was shoved aside by two teenage girls trying to get through, mumble to myself something about hating crowds and teenagers are assholes. Fine, moving on, me with my bright blue walker with wheels, just trying to leave the mall. Grown ass man shoves me to the left trying to get through, first of all WTF, second of all, if I was an old lady would they be shoving me? I have never in my life felt so vulnerable than at this very moment, broken, small and in a crowd of people who didn’t give a shit about where I was in their space. At this point I am holding back the tears that are trying to well up in my eyes because I am not weak and I will not let these people break me, there’s a reason I don’t work in retail anymore. Barely holding my shit together but getting closer to being out of this disaster of an outing another set of teenage girls pushed me aside to get by.

Once I left the mall doors and was on my way to the car I started to cry (I could barely walk, I was using something meant for old ladies, I was only a year into a diagnosis that would eventually take everything from me and I just experienced the worst of humanity during the holiday season). This just would not work for me. I started to research after that, what it would take to get a service dog for my MS by the time I needed one. I also set my walker up with flashing bike lights, a warning horn and a cup holder because you had better believe I am not getting shoved around again.

In my research I found that most options for service dogs are buying a Lab type puppy specifically bred for the job and then paying $40,000 for training. Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of cash laying around to pay for a service dog, especially when meds for treatment for MS is already very expensive. Then I happened upon Freedom Service Dogs, I vaguely remembered them speaking at one of my DAR meetings when I first joined but at that time I was not yet diagnosed.

Freedom Service Dogs is a non-profit organization that provides fully, custom trained service dogs to people who need them. This includes mobility, veterans, PTSD, they have also partnered with Disco Dogs to provide service dogs to people with Autism at no charge to the client. They provide you with training with your dog and constant support should you want it. They will also help train your dog for things like if you have MS and go from needing Brace and Balance assistance to being in a wheelchair and needing your dog to support you with that.

Want to know more about my journey to getting my service dog? I will post another blog about the next steps next week.