Guest Posts
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
New ADA Regulations Narrow Service Animal Definition
But will it solve the problem of badly behaving humans?
Beth Finke with her Seeing Eye dog, Harper.

Starting today, March 15, 2011, only service dogs and trained miniature horses are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Monkeys, rodents and reptiles, among others, are no longer permitted to accompany individuals with disabilities into places of public accommodation.


Department of Justice regulations (implementing Title III of the ADA) used to define a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”


The ADA revisions going into affect today were drawn up after some disability advocates asked the Department of Justice to crack down on people who were faking or exaggerating disabilities in order to get their companion animals into places of public accommodation. Starting today, a service animal is defined as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”


Notice the specific word dog in that sentence. Aside from one provision for miniature horses, other species of animals (whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained) are no longer deemed service animals.


It really does make it harder for the rest of us when an animal or his handler’s poor behavior causes people to think badly about service animals. I’ve heard stories about helper parrots pecking at shoppers in stores, a therapeutic rat that quelled anxiety in his owner but caused anxiety to others, and comfort pigs going crazy on airplanes. In my own life, however, the only negative service animal stories that have affected me personally have been about dogs.


The last time I went to a Cubs game, I was stopped while trying to get into Wrigley Field with my Seeing Eye dog. The man taking tickets said he didn’t know if the dog was allowed. I pointed to the harness, told him she was a Seeing Eye dog. He was skeptical.


Turns out that a week earlier someone had brought a puppy to Wrigley, claiming the dog was a service dog. The dog misbehaved, and fans sitting nearby complained. After that, the people working the gates were told to scrutinize anyone coming in with a service dog.


In addition to being despicable, faking a disability to gain privilege is fraud. It also results in increased scrutiny of people with legitimate disabilities. I’ve had this happen to me at Crate and Barrel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. At a jazz club in the Loop. At a sandwich shop in our neighborhood. I was stopped at the door at each place. At the first two, the doorman checked with a supervisor before letting me through with my Seeing Eye dog. At Jimmy John’s, they just kicked us out. We haven’t been back.


As the very first school in the U.S. to train guide dogs for the blind, the Seeing Eye has worked for nearly a century to give guide dog’s public access. I didn’t really have a problem with having this access extended to qualified service animals of any type—helper pigs, parrots, monkeys, you name it, as long as they were qualified.


I wish the powers that be could have somehow revised the law to regulate the behavior of the animal rather than its species. And as long as we’re cracking down, why not start with the species that is most at fault here: humans.



Beth Finke's book, Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound—about her bond with her Seeing Eye dog—won an ASPCA/Henry Bergh children's book award. Follow Hanni and Beth's travels on the Safe & Sound blog. bethfinke.wordpress.com
CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Anonymous | March 15 2011 |

My seizure alert Papillon who is perfectly trained, gets reported by the general public quite often, When they see a small dog they presume that I am a "rich bitch" (said in their own words). I have almost no problems with busines. People need to be educated as to what service dogs can do to assist their owners.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 16 2011 |

People denying you entry and such need to realize they are breaking Federal Law by denying a legally handicapped person access with their service dog. When they throw you out of a restaurant, sue them! I had a service dog owner give me crap not even knowing me because my service dogs are small breed. If a service dog owner doesn't get it..than how the heck is a store owner going to?

Submitted by Anonymous | March 18 2011 |

*Great* Article! Cannot wait for your new book to be released! Don't think anyone will deny Harper anywhere with those stunning looks of his!

Submitted by Megan & Caleb | March 24 2011 |

I could not agree more, humans are the crux of this problem. In the years that I have been raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind on average I am approached once a week from someone asking where they can get a vest like my dog's so they can take their pet with them wheverever they go. When I see a dog sniffing and reaching for the produce or lunging at people in the check out line or running lose in a store they give every service animal a bad name. Unfortunately these are also the ones that stand out the most and lead to problems for legitimate working teams.

Submitted by Ken Owen | April 1 2011 |

Thank-you so much for writing this. I am a type 1 diabetic with hypoglycemic unawareness and have a Cardigan Welsh Corgi that I trained to be my service animal. Without my dog I would have died a number of times when my blood sugar has dropped dangerously low, some in the middle of the night.

Living in California, I see a number of people with animals that are either not built for the 'intended support purpose' or simply not trained. Being an able bodied person who doesn't look disabled, I frequently have to educate people. Even telling them about my disability and how my dog helps me. I know that I don't have to disclose my disability, but in my opinion it is better to be open and educate. So many people are uninformed or just plain ignorant.

Again, thank-you!


Submitted by Barbara Jean | May 15 2011 |

I have suffered from degenerative disc, scoliosis, stenosis, sciatica, 13 pins in my heels and peripheral neuropathy. As my physical mobility has continued to deteriorate, I have come to rely more and more on my home trained service dogs; one retired, one working. My dogs have CGC certificates, Therapy Dog Int certs, and trained under the guidance of Top Dog, Tucson, Arizona. My dogs are a credit to service dogs everywhere, having accomplished many firsts in our area, as in first dog carrying my books at local college. My retired service dog was even named the local hero of the week after he saved my life. Anyway, a local mental health agency that routinely provides transport to clients refuses to transport my impeccably behaved and groomed serice dog, saying that someone with an allergy might be affected. My dog(s) have been in numerous offices over the years, have spent extended amounts of time in lobby. All interactions have been 150% positive. Am I being discriminated against?

Submitted by STEVE | May 26 2011 |

At jimmy johns..I think that was the namee of the place you wrote, "kicked you out" you should have called the police and newspapers/tv stations and made a return visit. The police would make perfect witnesses to violations of federal laws (i'm not certain if illinois has any service dog laws, but many states do do, making what they did either a misdaneanor or in some states/cases actuall a felony!).....Even if no state laws are on the books in il./ The fed. Laws would have fined them, cost them a bundle in attorney's fees, negative publicity would have cost them business & the way chicago works, i would't be surprised if it resulted in health inspector making more visits & looking really-really close at their "establishment" and alcoholic bev. Commission agents stopping by their place too. The main thing is that we need publicity when this happens to us so that people get the mjessage out there--none of us made a choice to become disabled, none of us wanted to have to depend on dogs or other people to help us through our days/our lives...It just happened and it can happen to anyone at anytime---thank goodness there are service dogs~~all types, that can help a wide variety of people feel and be/live more independently!

In the 60's i marched in social demonstrations for social change and to eliminate injustice................While we have a society did make a few minor advances, when i read, see, hear and personally experience this type of predjudice and out-right ingnorance, i can't believe how far we have not come!

I'm almost ready to start a movement to add huard and attack training for all service dogs...So if some idiot mistreats them and their handler, they can chew off the offenders arm or leg so they can see what it's like to suffer physical & psychological damages and loses...............Power to the people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was

More From The Bark

Lisa Wogan
Heidi Biesterveld
Anna Jane Grossman
More in Guest Posts:
Career Moves
Timmy's Amazing Transformation
Learn How To Train Dogs at ClickerExpo 2015
Defusing Awkward Situations
From the Streets to the Gallery, All Thanks to the Dog
Jedi Surfs
This Dog Loves Guitar!
Play Ball
Hope Needs a Forever Home
Dogs and Lipomas