The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), Title II, broadly defines what a service dog is and the ADA (since it is a federal law) cannot be further restricted by state, county or city ordinances or by groups attempting to standardize service dog qualifications.

The purpose of the ADA is to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities.

According to the most recent ADA revision (2010):

“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.”

“The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler’s disability.”

Note that the ADA does not limit or define what tasks a service dog is required to perform. Also notice that the task must benefit an individual with a disability.

Therefore, a service dog is not defined by the number or type of tasks, except that the tasks must benefit an individual with a recognized disability.

The dog is not protected or defined by the ADA, rather, the protected group are the persons with disabilities.

The 2010 ADA revision goes further and defines what constitutes a disability:

“Disability” means, with respect to an individual, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.

The phrase “physical or mental impairment” means:

* Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine;

* Any mental or psychological disorder such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.

The phrase “physical or mental impairment” includes, but is not limited to, such contagious and noncontagious diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental retardation, emotional illness, specific learning disabilities, HIV disease (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic), tuberculosis, drug addiction, and alcoholism.

The phrase “physical or mental impairment” does not include homosexuality or bisexuality.

* The phrase “major life activities” means functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

* The phrase “has a record of such an impairment” means has a history of, or has been misclassified as having, a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

The phrase is regarded as “having an impairment” means:

* Has a physical or mental impairment that does not substantially limit major life activities but that is treated by a public entity as constituting such a limitation;

* Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities only as a result of the attitudes of others toward such impairment; or

* Has none of the impairments defined in paragraph (1) of this definition but is treated by a public entity as having such an impairment.

It is not our intent to explain the absolute protection of the ADA regulation. Rather, we hope to help to clarify the status of a dog as a service animal. For a full reading of the current ADA regulation, please see the ADA website at: http://www.ada.gov/index.html

Over time, the ADA law has been interpreted by the courts, and others, as more restrictive than the original legislation intended. This law is intentionally broad in its coverage and should be recognized as such. Again, the purpose of the ADA law is to “…prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities.” This protection is for discrimination against the person, not the dog.

Legitimate concerns arise because of the broad scope of the law; concern that people will use the protection to have their pet dogs accompany them in public areas, concern that abuse of the law will lead to unreasonable restrictions. It is important to understand, should you be tempted to claim that your pet dog is a service dog when it is not, is that you are misrepresenting your status and by doing so, subjecting yourself to potential criminal felony charges.

Please remember that it is not the dog that is protected by the ADA, but the person with disabilities. Do not abuse this important distinction.

To summarize, a service dog is defined by 1) its training, 2) the legal status of a disabled handler. No exceptions.

Gabby Jack Ranch supports and encourages individuals who have disabilities and use service dogs. Abuse of this privilege is against the law; it is unjustified and offensive. Improper use of service dog status could lead to overly restrictive legislation negatively impacting those who most deserve protection.

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