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New Jersey lawyer focusing on special education law and employment law

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Service Animals Now “Defined”

Over the past year, I have devoted a substantial amount of time talking about service animals. I have discussed how dogs, miniature horses, and monkeys can be trained to become service animals. I have also discussed badly behaved ‘service animals’ — people who claim to have legitimate disabilities and pawn their untrained companion pets as service animals. This blog post marks the 15th article on the subject in the past year.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice revised the ADA regulations. Prior to the revisions, the ADA regulations had not limited “service animals” to any specific type of animal. Now, there is an extremely narrow limitation: only dogs meet the definition of service animals.

The newly issued regulations provides in part:

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. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition.

The new definition of service animal will sorely disappoint individuals with disabilities who have and rely on parrots, monkeys, snakes, and miniature horses, as their service animals. As Martin Matheny points out, “dogs are great, but there are some things that they cannot do.”

But wait a moment.

If you keep on reading the regulations, you’ll find something interesting. Section 36.302(c)(9) provides:

(9) Miniature horses.

(i) A public accommodation shall make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability.

(ii) Assessment factors. In determining whether reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures can be made to allow a miniature horse into a specific facility, a public accommodation shall consider –

(A) The type, size, and weight of the miniature horse and whether the facility can accommodate these features;

(B) Whether the handler has sufficient control of the miniature horse;

(C) Whether the miniature horse is housebroken; and

(D) Whether the miniature horse’s presence in a specific facility compromises legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation.

(iii) Other requirements. Sections 36.302(c)(3) through (c)(8), which apply to service animals, shall also apply to miniature horses.

Although the regulation now limits the definition of service animals to dogs only, the regulation suggests that individuals with disabilities who own and rely on miniature horses to mitigate their disabilities may nonetheless be afforded some legal protection under the ADA. If this sounds confusing, you’re not alone.

So, one wonders what had prompted the limitation of service animals to only dogs. And why the inclusion of miniature horses?

With respect to limiting the definition of service animals limited to dogs, the drafters were quite concerned about the safety risks that exotic animals, particularly primates, pose to the public.

With regard to miniature horses, the drafters were cognizant of the fact that there is a long history of training miniature horses and these types of horses lived much longer than dogs. Additionally, the drafters were aware that miniature horses may be better suited for people with allergies as well as disabled Muslims who rely on miniature horses instead of dogs for religious reasons (see video below).

I predict that the new regulations will be revised to expand the definition of “service animals” someday. I’m fairly certain that someday in the future (perhaps a few years down the road), monkeys and miniature horses will be included in the definition of service animals. I’m not sure about snakes and parrots, but who knows?

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