Confusion and Abuse Feed off Each Other when it Comes to Service Animals

We’ve all seen or heard the bizarre stories: the dog…snake…pig…bird…that wreaks havoc when it is traveling around with its owner. But because the owner refers to it as a “service” or “emotional support” animal, everyone is afraid to complain about it.

Then we hear about the situation earlier this summer: a woman who was legally blind called AAA because her car had broken down. However,  a new AAA employee told her that her seeing-eye dog could not accompany her in the truck that was towing her car.

Fortunately this mistake was eventually rectified, after an hour and a half of argument. AAA finally allowed the dog to stay with the woman and made a public apology. For more, see:

GoLocalWorcester AAA Refused to Pick Up Blind Woman Stranded with Service Dog

There’s no question that AAA should have trained this employee better and/or made its policy more clear. So let’s clarify: This situation involved Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the public accommodations section. Title III does not consider any animal to be a service animal except a dog (and in some cases, a miniature horse). Title III also specifically states that an “emotional support” animal does not qualify as a service animal.
In addition, Title III does not require any license or special identification for an animal identified as a service animal, and it is illegal to demand to see such identification.

Perhaps some of the confusion is because there are other parts of the ADA (as well as other disability laws) where this distinction is not so clear and where emotional support animals may be recognized in certain cases.

Assistance Dog pushing Crosswalk button

For more information about that, go to A Guide to Disability Rights Laws

But  I and many other disability advocates believe that a big part of the reason there is so much confusion on this issue is because, quite frankly, people abuse the law. This is not fair to people who really need the help of those animals, because it damages their credibility. It is also not fair to the countless establishments who are trying very hard to understand and comply with the law.  And I’ll leave it to others to decide whether it is fair to the animals in question.

Care to comment?