On March 15, 2011, a new definition of the term “service animal” went into effect, after United States Attorney General Eric Holder signed regulations revising the ADA regulations on this and other issues. The new definition states:
“Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler´s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal´s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”
What do you need to know about the ADA definition of a service animal?
First, only dogs are considered service animals. (Please note, there is something called a companion animal, and this post does not address companion animals, which may also be legally protected under certain circumstances.)
Second, service animals have to be kept on a leash in public unless leashing the animal would prevent it from performing the work it is trained to do for its disabled owner.
Third and probably most important for community associations, service animals are not subject to breed bans, pet restrictions or bans, and/or size/weight limitations.
The new rule also provides some protections for miniature horses under certain circumstances.)
The new definition is much narrower than the previous version, which stated that service animals included “any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” The rule was narrowed in response to requests from disability advocates, who asked the Attorney General to adopt a tighter definition to address the fact that people were faking or exaggerating their disabilities and/or trying to get companion animals treated in the same manner as service animals.
Washington State is considering its own bill to narrow the definition of a service animal under Washington State law. We will keep you posted as that bill makes its way through the legislature and notify you if/when it is adopted.
If you have any questions we can answer, please feel free to leave a comment or contact us directly. We look forward to continuing this conversation with you in our future posts!