The ADA’s inconsistent service animal limitations

This series will showcase three papers from the Fall 2010 Disability in the Law class at the Seattle University School of Law. The class was taught by David Carlson, associate director of legal advocacy for DisAbility Rights Washington.

Service Animals – What Does Service Mean? ” by third year Seattle University law student Krystle Curley challenges the distinction between service and therapy animals in federal disability rights laws.

Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act provide protection for individuals with disabilities accompanied by trained service dogs in all public facilities if they need the animal’s assistance to perform daily tasks. However, therapy animals which provide support to people with disabilities despite often not being trained to perform a specific task are not protected.

Curley argues that this exclusion is inconsistent with the ADA’s goal of requiring reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities to function in society.  She cites cases where an untrained therapy dog was able to prevent emergencies by “reflecting the innate sensitivities of the individual,” such as an upcoming seizure.

The Department of Justice has also made statements recognizing the beneficial effects of therapy animals and the other federal statutes provided protection for therapy animals for travel and housing purposes. Curley also argues that the language in the ADA describes how reasonable accommodation for employment purposes can protect the use of therapy animals at work.

“It is unimaginable why emotional support does not qualify as a task directly related to the handler’s disability if it is what will enable the individual to leave the house and go to the grocery store,” Curley states.