IAADP
International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners



COALITION OF ASSISTANCE DOG ORGANIZATIONS

P. O. Box 638 * Sterling Heights, MI 48311 * 586-826-3938


January 11, 2005


ANPRM
P.O. Box 1032
Merrifield, VA. 22116-1032

Docket Number: CRT Docket No. 2004-DRS01

SERVICE ANIMAL REGULATIONS UNDER ADA

The Coalition of Assistance Dog Organizations (CADO) was formed in 2001 to work on issues related to the assistance dog movement in response to widespread concern throughout its member organizations regarding the misinterpretation, lack of understanding and increasing abuse of public access rights to which disabled individuals partnered with trained service animals are entitled. CADO is comprised of consumer advocacy organizations representing disabled persons who work with guide, hearing and service dogs and the umbrella organizations for schools like the Seeing Eye which train these dogs to perform disability mitigating tasks. Guide Dog Users, Inc. has over1000 blind and visually impaired members partnered with guide dogs. The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners has over 2000 disabled members whose canine assistants have been owner trained, privately trained or program trained to perform tasks that will increase their human partner’s safety and independence. The Council of US Dog Guide Schools represents ten schools which specialize in the breeding and training of guide dogs. Assistance Dogs International represents more than 90 not for profit programs and maintains industry standards for training guide, hearing and service dog teams. As a coalition, CADO adopts and promotes its positions through seeking input from its diverse membership and by providing a platform for many like minded individuals to speak with one voice when and where this is necessary to achieve consensus and change.

CADO members are united in the desire to preserve the public access rights granted by the Americans With Disabilities Act for the next generation. We are aware of abuses taking place by non disabled animal owners and by disabled persons who are confused about the regulatory definition of a service animal or those who believe the training requirements for access can be ignored with impunity. We fear if this continues, it will gravely undermine societal tolerance for the presence of service animals in places of public accommodation.

CADO wants to bring to the attention of the Department of Justice three major concerns with the regulations promulgated to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The first is the problems arising from the inclusion of the phrase, “providing minimal protection” which appears in one of the task examples given in the Definition of a Service Animal. A second concern is the abuse of ADA due to ongoing confusion in the public and private sector over what qualifies a species of animal to be considered a service animal under ADA. Our third concern is the absence of consequences and poor enforcement of existing penalties for those who violate the published regulations.

In the Federal Register, Feb. 22, 1991, the following Definition appears:
Service animal means any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including, but not limited to guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items.
By including the task "providing minimal protection" in this legal definition, an unanticipated response has been the claim by some protection dog trainers that dogs trained to menace or attack members of the public on command legally qualify as service animals if the owner has a disability.

CADO knows the Department of Justice Disability Rights section does not condone this outlandish interpretation as to what constitute's "minimal protection and rescue work." The 1996 Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business states: "You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility when that animal's behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal which displays vicious behavior toward other guests or customers may be excluded."

CADO believes that giving a dog the kind of aggression training known as "protection training" in the dog training world, is not what the DOJ intended when it added "providing minimal protection and rescue work" to the regulatory definition of a Service Animal. An animal trained to display vicious behavior on command, a behavior which immediately would cause the animal to be excluded from a place of public accommodation, would be a misleading and poor example of a disability mitigating trained task performed by a service animal.

Another extremist interpretation of the example, "providing minimal protection," is arguably even more alarming in terms of its seductive logic. This viewpoint holds that since the presence of a dog can have a crime deterrent effect, any pet dog is capable of performing the task of "minimal protection" just by its mere presence. Pet owners cite the feeling of comfort or safety to be derived from the animal's presence as the reason why they should be allowed to have the animal with them in places of public accommodation. This argument attempts to circumvent the fundamental requirement for training established by the regulatory definition of a Service Animal. That definition mandates that a guide dog, signal dog or any other animal must be individually trained to perform work or tasks for the benefit of a disabled individual. It is the specialized training received by an animal to enable it to perform tasks for the disabled person which legally changes that animal from the status of a pet to the status of a service animal. Without this requirement for special training, there would be no demonstrable difference between a pet and a service animal.

To avoid future rationalizations of this nature that subvert the intent of Congress in granting access rights to disabled persons with specially trained service animals, the Coalition of Assistance Dog Organizations would like to submit an alternative service animal definition, which has been carefully considered and approved by the membership of our respective organizations.

Service animal means an assistance dog, and may include other animals specifically trained to perform physical tasks to mitigate the effects of an individual’s disability. Assistance dogs include guide dogs that guide individuals who are legally blind; hearing dogs that alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to specific sounds; and, service dogs for individuals with disabilities other than blindness or deafness. Service dogs are trained to perform a variety of physical tasks including but not limited to pulling a wheelchair, lending balance support, picking up dropped objects or providing assistance in a medical crisis. The presence of an animal for comfort, protection or personal defense does not qualify as training to mitigate the effects of an individual’s disability and therefore does not qualify said animal as a service animal.

We strongly recommend the substitution of this language developed by the organizations representing the assistance dog movement in the USA, in place of the 1991 regulatory language.

A second issue that needs to be addressed is the unanticipated situation of disabled individuals seeking public access rights with species of animals other than dogs. CADO does not believe it was the intent of the Department of Justice or the authors of ADA to foster an "anything goes under ADA" attitude in the disabled community with respect to a service animal. While the broad nature of the ADA's regulations is beneficial in most cases, the problems faced by the public and private sector with regard to how some individuals and organizations are interpreting the service animal definition calls into question the practicality of such breadth. The hotel industry, the airline industry, other public transportation systems, shopping centers and colleges are just some of the places of public accommodation which have been confronted with demands for an accommodation for a wide variety of pets over the years, from boa constrictors and rodents to pigs to miniature goats to ferrets and everything in between. After fourteen years, it has become apparent the regulatory definition of a service animal and the guidance documents issued by the DOJ in 1996 and 2002 have been inadequate for effective public education and have not put an end to the confusion over what makes a species eligible for consideration as a service animal under ADA.

CADO is not opposed to the use of other species if that species can meet the same behavior and training standards that an assistance dog must meet for the handler to have access rights with a qualified service animal under ADA. We respectfully submit and urge the adoption of a set of Minimum Behavior and Training Standards for All Service Animals. (See Appendix A)

The adoption of these common sense behavior and training standards will go a long way toward ending arguments on the part of disabled persons and places of business over whether or not a particular species of animal is capable of functioning the way a service animal should function on public transport and in other places of public accommodation. Our goal is to promote the responsible use of access rights and prevent further erosion of societal support for the presence of service animal teams in public places.

A third concern is what to do about the pet owners who pretend to be a qualified person with a disability accompanied by a service animal so they can gain access with their animal to places of public accommodation which have policies that exclude pets. CADO urges the Department of Justice to incorporate a strong statement about fraud into the regulatory language to deter future violations, such as: Any non disabled person who misrepresents himself or herself as a qualified person with a disability whose animal is a service animal for the purpose of gaining access to places of public accommodation with that animal is committing fraud and may be prosecuted under the federal anti fraud laws.

In closing, let it be remembered that it took generations of hard work on the part of disabled persons and their advocates to win the battles leading to Congress passing the ADA and other legislation securing public access rights for qualified disabled individuals partnered with specially trained assistance dogs. CADO strongly urges the Department of Justice to take action to ensure these rights and to protect the public from their abuse.

Sincerely,


Joan Froling, Chairperson, International Association of Assistance Dog Partners

Sheila Styron, President, Guide Dog Users, Inc

Wells Jones, CADO Delegate from the Council of US Dog Guide Schools

Linda Jennings, President, Assistance Dogs International




Appendix A

BEHAVIOR & TRAINING STANDARDS FOR ALL SERVICE ANIMALS

For over 75 years, assistance dogs have worked successfully in public and won the public's acceptance by achieving high behavioral and training standards, which set them apart from pets and other animals.

In order to assure the comfort and safety of people with disabilities AND the general public, high behavioral and training standards must apply equally to all service animals. We propose that all service animals intended for use in public, regardless of species, be required to meet the same standards required of dogs specifically trained to assist people with disabilities. We are not proposing to disallow other species from service work. Any animal that can meet the existing standards for behavior, training, cleanliness and public appropriateness may be allowed to work in public when accompanied by the person for who's disability it was specifically trained.

These standards include:

PUBLIC APPROPRIATENESS:

BEHAVIOR:

TRAINING:





Appendix B

NEW DEFINITION OF A SERVICE ANIMAL

Proposed by the Coalition of Assistance Dog Organizations (CADO) to clarify the 1991 definition.

Service animal means an assistance dog, and may include other animals specifically trained to perform physical tasks to mitigate the effects of an individual’s disability. Assistance dogs include guide dogs that guide individuals who are legally blind; hearing dogs that alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to specific sounds; and, service dogs for individuals with disabilities other than blindness or deafness. Service dogs are trained to perform a variety of physical tasks including but not limited to pulling a wheelchair, lending balance support, picking up dropped objects or providing assistance in a medical crisis. The presence of an animal for comfort, protection or personal defense does not qualify as training to mitigate the effects of an individual’s disability and therefore does not qualify said animal as a service animal.

NOTE: grammatical update, Jan. 31, 2007, to Service Animal Definition

Mitigate an individual’s disability changed to “mitigate the effects of an individual’s disability.”

Return to Advocacy | Return to IAADP home page