Dr. Dolittler

Service animals, large and small, have legal rights

 

khulyp@bellsouth.net

Q. My daughter, who has epilepsy, relies on a small, well-behaved service dog. She was mortified recently at the airport when the ticketing agent loudly demanded she show what “function” the dog performed. Please let your readers know that service-animal owners are exempt from such intrusive questions.

As a veterinarian required to sign travel- and housing-related documentation for service dogs of all stripes, I’m often treated to stories similar to yours.

The Americans with Disabilities Act allows only “limited inquiries” about an individual’s service animal. In cases where it’s unclear what service the animal provides, as with your daughter’s seizure-alert dog, just two questions are permitted, according to the ADAs website: “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”

Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical or training documentation or “ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.”

Though even guide dogs for the blind are still illegally denied entrance to some establishments, it’s my experience that owners of smaller service dogs tend to attract greater scrutiny.

A final note: Though many dogs also serve an emotional support function and may be registered as “emotional support animals,” neither the ADA nor the Air Carrier Access Act recognizes them as service dogs.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice in South Miami and blogs at www.dolittler.com. Send questions to khulyp@bellsouth.net, or Dr. Dolittler, Tropical Life, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave. Doral, FL 33172.

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