International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners

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International Association of Assistance Dog Partners

Ed Eames Ph.D., President
* 3376 North Wishon Ave. * Fresno, CA 93704 *
* (559) 224-0544 * (559) 224-5851 Fax *
eeames@csufresno.edu * www.IAADP.org


Board of Directors
Toni Eames, Tanya Eversole, Jill Exposito, Joan Froling, Wendy Morrell, Devon Wilkins

IAADP's Public Comment on the Department of Justice 2008 NPRM

Re: Revision of the ADA Service Animal Definition

Docket ID: DOJ-CRT-2008-0015        

The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) is a cross-disability consumer advocacy organization with more than 2,000 members working with guide, hearing and service dogs. Its mission is to foster the assistance dog movement through education, advocacy and peer support.

We commend the Department of Justice for including in its revised proposed definition of service animal a number of new and essential elements, particularly emphasis on maintaining control of the service animal in public settings and the requirement of housebreaking.  As an organization committed to fostering the assistance dog movement, IAADP appreciates the Department of Justice's attempt to clarify the definition of service animal for the general population, public accommodation representatives and those working with service animals.  However, IAADP believes certain issues need further clarification before being established as final rules.

In response to the NPRM published in the Federal Register on June 17th, IAADP, based on the rationale discussed below, encourages the Department of Justice to:

1.  Eliminate the phrase "providing minimal protection" from the definition of service animal;

2.  Eliminate the phrase "do work" from the definition because it is redundant and the example of work given in the NPRM, grounding, undermines the Department's goal of maintaining a clear distinction between specially trained service animals and those animals whose mere presence can provide emotional support, companionship or therapeutic benefits.

3.   Limit the use of other species only to animals which can be trained to meet the same standards for behavior and training that assistance dogs must meet to qualify for public access.

4.   Avoid placing a size or weight limit on common domestic animals such as assistance dogs.

According to the NPRM, widespread misinterpretation of the minimal protection language has been a problem for the last 15 years. The DOJ notes "Despite the Department's best efforts, the minimal protection language appears to have been misinterpreted."

By continuing the use of this language, nothing will change.

Since the mission of the new rules is to clarify and avoid confusion, maintenance of this phrase undermines this goal.  

Minimal protection has been used by some trainers and disabled partners to justify attack and aggression training for what are claimed to be service animals.  Although the Department does not agree with this interpretation, continuing to use the minimal protection phrase does nothing to curtail the idea that attack and aggressive behavior are acceptable tasks performed by assistance dogs.

The justification for including minimal protection in the original definition was to guarantee the rights of those with seizure disorders to train their service dogs for seizure response and alert tasks.  Since the new definition proposed by the Department includes assisting an individual during a seizure, the minimal protection language is redundant and not needed. 

Therefore, in response to Question Nine, IAADP believes that maintaining the "providing minimal protection" clause is counterproductive to the goal of the current NPRM.

IAADP applauds DOJ's categorical statement: "Animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals."

IAADP believes it is imperative to make it clear that individuals with disabilities whose pets or companion animals have not been trained to perform tasks directly related to their disability do not qualify as service animals.  These are usually referred to as emotional support or comfort dogs when associated with a person with a psychiatric, cognitive or mental disability.  Since individuals with psychiatric disabilities constitute the largest single category of Americans with disabilities, the distinction between task training to mitigate the effects of an individual’s disability on the one hand, and mere presence on the other should be clear and consistently supported by the Department.

IAADP's concern is with the section in the NPRM that reads:

"In contrast, the phrase 'do work' is slightly broader than ’perform tasks', and adds meaning to the definition." By definition all work is task defined thus to say "do work" is redundant and not needed.

Another concern is the example given of a psychiatric service dog helping some individuals with dissociative identity disorder to remain grounded in time or place.  By including grounding as work performed by a psychiatric service dog, the Department is providing the basis for an individual with a psychiatric disability to claim the mere presence of a dog, which helps ground him/her, meets the DOJ definition of a service animal.

This reference contradicts the strong and clear statement that emotional support, companion or comfort animals do not meet the Department's definition of a service animal. It also contradicts the basic premise that a service animal performs a task to mitigate the effects of an individual’s disability.  If included, this section will continue to be a source of confusion to the public, businesses and assistance dog partners.  IAADP believes the reference to grounding should be eliminated, as well as the phrase "do work".

In response to Question Ten, IAADP commends the Department for recognizing the concerns expressed by many of our constituents about the use of reptiles  and other species that cannot be reliably housebroken, task trained or, which by their very nature, pose a threat to public safety.  Our goal is to promote the responsible use of access rights and prevent the erosion of societal tolerance for service animal teams in places of public accommodation.

In response to Question 11 concerning the size and weight of common domestic animals, IAADP endorses the current Department policy.  We believe it is not the role of the government to limit disabled people's choice of what would be an effective assistance dog for them.

The size of a common domestic animal like an assistance dog is a matter of individual choice/necessity and may be related to the nature of the disability.  Limiting size and weight would discriminate against disabled individuals who because of their height or weight and/or the severity of their mobility impairment need to work with very large powerful assistance dogs on strenuous tasks such as providing stability while walking, helping transfer in and out of chairs, getting up after a fall or pulling a wheelchair. IAADP recommends  not placing limits on the size or weight of a common domestic animal like an assistance dog.

With the incorporation of IAADP's recommendations in the new definitions, we feel that the current confusion and misinterpretations will be greatly mitigated to everyone's benefit.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the NPRM.

Ed Eames, Ph.D., President 
International Association of Assistance Dog Partners

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