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If you have a disability and want to bring your helper parrot, monkey or snake with you in public, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Revisions to the Department of Justice’s ADA regulations  were signed by Attorney General Eric Holder last Friday, and they exclude exotic animals as service animals.
Monkeys, rodents, and reptiles, among others, will no longer be permitted to accompany individuals with disabilities into places of public accommodation. The only animals who will qualify as service animals are … dogs.
DOJ 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 revised regulations define 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.” Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this new definition.
These regulations will take effect six months after the date they are published in the Federal Register, and at risk of being labeled a species-ist, I must confess I look forward to the changes. I use a trained service dog who adheres to high behavioral standards. When you travel around with a dog like this you get an earful of stories about other service animals: Helper parrots pecking at shoppers in stores; comfort pigs going crazy in airplanes; a therapeutic rat that quells anxiety in his owner but ends up causing anxiety to others instead.
Seeing Eye pioneers worked long and hard to open the doors and give our dogs public access. Opening ADA legislation to even more animals who may not truly be qualified could possibly ruin the good name our Seeing Eye pioneers have worked so hard to build over the years. My hope is that limiting the number of allowable species will stop erosion of the public’s trust in our well-behaved, helpful—and absolutely necessary—service animals.
Photo by Kaitlin Cashman.