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Federal government narrows service animal definition
Beth Finke with her Seeing Eye dog, Hanni.

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. 


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

Photo by Kaitlin Cashman.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Anonymous | July 27 2010 |

One is a fairly exclusive limit.
Though I like the idea of limiting what is considered a service animal, I believe the miniature horses showed promise. I am sorry that they were excluded. Many dog purists would argue that dogs are good enough, but since most of them haven't used a pony, I feel they are arguing from a position of ignorance. I love my guidedog, and wouldn't want a horse. Nonetheless, I don't feel I have the rite to deny other people with equally valid experiences the rite to use horses.
I hope a rigorous scientific study on other animal types will be carried out someday by a qualified body so that this issue may be revisited in the future.

Submitted by Beth | July 29 2010 |

You know, the idea that a rigorous scientific study on other animal species could be carried out someday is intriguing. My guess is that it might take more than "science" to determine what species best qualify for service work, though...

Submitted by Rex | July 28 2010 |

I totally appreciate your point of view on this. My first reaction was dogs only? That hardly seems fair. I know of pygmy horses that act as seeing eye guides. I think it's good to guard against abuses of service animal privileges. But I hope someday as other animals are more rigorously trained and certified we'll discovered and accept more species into the fold.

Submitted by Beth | July 29 2010 |

Rex, Not only do those miniature horses show promise, some of them (especially one I have read about named "Panda") are doing excellent guide work. I guess it's another example where some people selfishly stretching the definition have caused a backlash against others who truly qualify for ADA privileges. I wonder if the DOJ wrestled at all with this one , I wonder if they tried to shoehorn the two words "miniature horses" in the new definition but were worried it would re-open the very can of worms they were trying to close shut?

Submitted by EmiyS | July 29 2010 |

The DoJ has the text and discussion of the service animal issue:

The regs also clarify that localities may NOT ban specific service dogs by breed or size

Submitted by Elizabeth Winchell | January 16 2011 |

This new law discriminates against disabled people who need a service animal, but are allergic to dogs. There is no provision for dog allergic people, just a loss of rights. The law also discriminates against veterans and others who cannot use their hands, and therefore need monkey service animals. To protect disabled people who cannot use dogs, sign the petition.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 18 2011 |

Thank you for sharing your perspective. I agree that it's important to preserve the advances we've made towards the animal assistance of handicapped individuals. I really hope the ADA finds a way to stop the abuse without depriving those who have a legitimate need.

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