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Thomas E. Perez has served as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice since October 8, 2009. Prior to his nomination, he served as Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation – an agency that safeguards critical consumer and worker protections. He has served as a member of the Montgomery County, Md., Council and previously spent 12 years in federal public service, mainly as a career attorney in the Civil Rights Division. This statement originally appeared as a guest Blog on May 24, 2011.

Service animals play an integral role in the lives of many individuals with disabilities, providing assistance in a wide variety of ways so that they can have the freedom to go about their daily activities. For this reason, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants and retail stores, accommodate individuals with disabilities who use service animals.

However, when the Department of Justice (DOJ) originally issued its Title III regulation in the early 1990s, the Department did not define the parameters of acceptable animal species. Few anticipated that everything from pigs and miniature horses to snakes, iguanas and parrots would be used as service animals in the years to come. Some individuals, who do not have disabilities, have claimed, whether fraudulently or sincerely (albeit mistakenly) that their animals are service animals covered by the ADA, in order to gain access to hotels, restaurants and other places of public accommodation.

The proliferation of individuals who do not have disabilities claiming that their animals are service animals covered by the ADA, as well as the original vague definition of a service animal, has led to confusion throughout the years about the obligations of public places to accommodate individuals who use service animals. Additionally, individuals with disabilities who use trained guide or service dogs have expressed concern that if untrained or unusual animals are termed "service animals," their own right to use guide or service dogs may become restricted or questioned.

For these reasons, in the new ADA regulations that took effect in March, DOJ has clarified the rules governing service animals covered by the ADA.

DOJ agrees with the views expressed by some that limiting the types of species recognized as service animals will provide greater predictability for those who own or manage public accommodations, as well as added assurance of access for individuals with disabilities who use dogs as service animals. The Department has, therefore, decided to limit this rule's coverage of service animals to dogs, which are the most common service animals used by individuals with disabilities.

The Department's final rule defines a "service animal" as "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."

In drafting the definition, the Department took into consideration the many comments received from individuals and >organizations recommending species limitations. Several of these comments asserted that limiting the number of allowable species would help stop erosion of the public's trust, which has resulted in reduced access for many individuals with disabilities who use trained service animals that adhere to high behavioral standards. Others suggested that species other than dogs would be acceptable if those animals could meet nationally recognized behavioral standards for trained service dogs.

Public accommodations covered by Title III of the ADA are obligated to permit service animals. However, the new rule stipulates that a service animal can be excluded if the animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if the animal is not housebroken. If exclusion of a service animal occurs for one of these reasons, the handler should be given the opportunity to access the public accommodation without the animal.

With the clarification provided by the final rule, individuals with disabilities will continue to be able to use their service animals as they go about their daily activities. The clarification will also help to ensure that the fraudulent or mistaken use of other animals not qualified as service animals under the ADA will be deterred. More information about the new rules can be found at
Revised ADA Regulations Implamenting Title II and Title III.

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