Companion Service Dogs


Are you are a person in need of a companion service dog? If so, here is some important information about organizations that raise, train and place service dogs, and other organizations that train your dog for you, or can assist you in training a dog yourself.

You will find a directory of Service Animal Trainers and Training Programs by visiting the website of the Delta Society at http://www.deltasociety.org. The Delta Society is a national 501(c)(3)non-profit organization that helps people live healthier and happier lives by incorporating therapy, service and companion animals into their lives. The organization receives no government funding and relies solely on individuals, foundations and corporations for financial support. The directory does not contain a complete list of every service dog trainer or training program in the United States, but does cover the needs of most people who require a service dog.

Q: How can I get my companion service dog certified?
A: If you currently own a trained service dog, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require service animals to be certified. This type of assessment and identification is not a legal requirement under the ADA and other federal non-discrimination laws. Some owners prefer to have a service dog trainer evaluate the dog they trained and provided to the owner, and give the owner some type of identification card indicating the dog is a “Service Dog”.

Some trainers will also test dogs they have not personally trained and will provide an owner with an identification card. Some areas of the country will also provide a special license for service dogs. Check with the animal licensing department in your city or county for the requirements to obtain a special service dog tag.

Q: How much does a companion service dog cost?
A: Training and procurement fees for a qualified service dog depends on who provides the dog. Fees can range from zero cost for service dogs provided by non-profit organizations, to thousands of dollars for dogs obtained from private, for-profit companies. Each service animal trainer or training program sets their own fees.

For financial help in obtaining a service dog, search for sponsorship by local organizations such as businesses, churches, and civic groups. The Assistance Dog United Campaign raises funds in support of the assistance dog community. They accept voucher applications for new assistance dog partnerships. The vouchers are issued once a year and the decision of who will receive a voucher is based on disability and financial needs. To apply for a voucher, call them at (800) 284-3647 or contact them online at www.assistancedogunitedcampaign.org.

Q: Can I train my own dog to be a service dog?
A: One of the big challenges for those who train service dogs is getting the dog adequately taught to interact with people and other animals in public situations. Not all dogs have the temperament to handle the stress of working in public. You, as the owner of a service dog, must meet the ADA definition of having a disability – and to be considered a service dog – your dog must be trained to perform tasks directly related to your disability.

Q: What are the minimum standards for service dogs?
A: The “Minimum Standards for Service Dogs” documents the recommended characteristics and minimum set of skills required of all service dogs. The “Minimum Standards” also addresses the health and safety of the public, the dog’s owner, and the dog. The minimum standards for service dogs were developed by a team of service dog trainers, animal behaviorists, people with disabilities, and veterinarians to guide the development of the Service Dog Education System.

The Minimum Standards includes only those recommended characteristics and minimum behaviors required of all service dogs. The characteristics and specialized behaviors required of individual dogs should vary, based on the individual requirements of the person for whom the dog is trained. To view these standards visit Delta Society’s website

Q: How do I find out what my state’s laws are regarding service dogs?
A: Laws vary from state to state. Some are in compliance with federal laws, and some are not. Many have been recently revised or are in the process of revision. You can check the current provisions of state laws by contacting your state Attorney General’s office. Since the language differs from state to state, explain that you are calling about the laws that apply to service dogs – guide dogs, hearing dogs, etc. Indicate that you need information on the laws that apply to particular situations, such as housing, transportation, etc. When state or local laws conflict with federal laws, the law that provides greater protection for the person with the disability is the law that takes precedence.

Q: How do I find out what federal laws apply to service animals?
A: The most frequent question that arises for individuals with disabilities who have service animals, is “What are my rights?”. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990) is a federal civil rights law that defines disability. The ADA protects the rights of people with disabilities so they may have equal access to goods and services that are available to the general public. A person who does not have a disability as defined by the ADA is not protected by the ADA. The ADA also defines service animal, and stipulates that individuals with disabilities may be accompanied by their service animals in places of public accommodation. The ADA does not offer protection for individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by animals that do not meet this definition of service animal.

Legally, a service dog is not considered a “pet.” In general, a place of public accommodation must modify its “no pets” or “no animals” policies to permit the use of a service animal by a person with a disability, unless it can show that the animal will cause a fundamental alteration or safety hazard. Permitting the use of a service animal is part of making a reasonable policy modification. Public accommodations are not obligated to provide for the stewardship (care and well-being) of the animal while the animal is on the premises.

Concern and confusion can result when state laws and public health codes conflict with the ADA’s public access provisions for people with disabilities who are accompanied by service animals. Some state/local laws provide only for access of guide dogs; some public health codes prohibit pets from certain areas, like swimming pools or restaurants. In the cases where the state or local laws and public health codes do not agree with federal law, the law which is less restrictive for the person with the disability is the law that will take priority. If, for example, a state law allowed only “guide dogs in harness” in restaurants, the ADA would take priority and all service animals must be admitted (as described above) regardless of their type of work. Legally, a service animal cannot be required to wear equipment or special identifying uniform.

Q: What Are Some Circumstances When Service Dogs Can Be Denied Access?
Hospitals, medical or dental offices, and other healthcare provider sites, as places of public accommodation, must permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability, as stated above. Like other places of public accommodation, they may enforce “no pets” policies in certain areas (such as operating rooms) if they can show that permitting service animals in would result in a fundamental alteration or safety hazard to those areas. For example, if appropriate medical personnel can show that the presence or use of a service animal would pose a significant health risk in certain areas.

If you are illegally denied access to or otherwise discriminated against in other places of public accommodation because of your service animal, stay calm. Explain that the ADA (or state law if it provides greater protection) protects your right to be accompanied by your service animal in places of public accommodation. If that does not get you admitted, ask to speak to the manager or supervisor. Repeat the explanation. If you are still not admitted, you can politely offer to call the police to have them explain the law.

In addition, you can file complaints with appropriate state and federal agencies. If you think a state law has been violated, you can file a complaint with the enforcement agency for that law. Often this is the state Human Rights Commission; you can find out the enforcement agency by contacting your state Attorney General’s office. Formal complaints about violations of federal laws can be filed with the federal agency responsible for enforcing the applicable law and with the state agency that enforces nondiscrimination laws.

The following is a list of places where you can get additional help by telephone:
* Access to public places with a companion service dog and other rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (800) 514-0301

* Housing with a Service Animal: Department of Housing and Urban Development (202) 708-1112;

* Traveling with a Service Animal: Department of Transportation (202) 366-4000;

* Bringing your Service Animal to Work: Job Accommodation Network, a free service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the Department of Labor (800) 526-7234

* State laws that apply to people with service dogs: Contact your State Attorney General’s office and request that they direct you to the appropriate state agency.

Q: How can I get my service dog/animal allowed in housing?
A: Landlords, tenants and owners in multifamily housing, rental management companies and realtors often have questions about service animals in residential housing that traditionally has had a no-pet policy. In many areas, despite federal and some state laws that protect people with disabilities to have service animals in housing, confusion about rights and obligations persist. This can lead to discrimination.
The Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act is the law that most often helps to provide the guidance necessary to answer the questions that arise about service animals in housing. This article is not legal advice, but is informal technical assistance to help answer some of the most frequently asked housing questions. Advice about individual circumstances and about the legal interpretation of the Fair Housing Act can be obtained from the local Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office.

Q: I want to get a service dog for my child. Is this possible?
A: Some service dog trainers will train a service dog for children under 18 years old. Trainers usually will train a dog for a child based on a certain age or the maturity of the child. Delta Society’s directory of Service Animal Trainers and Training Programs will indicate under Services provided if a trainer will consider placing a service dog with a child. For further information about providing a service dog for a child, visit this Delta Society’s website

Q: Can my service dog ride in the airplane cabin with me? What is required?
A: Service dogs are allowed to ride in the airplane cabin with their owner. There is no Federal requirement that the dog wear any special gear or identification. Also, there is no requirement that the owner carry any certification papers showing that the dog has been trained as a service dog.

Q: I need legal help. How do I find it?
You can get legal referrals from your local or state Bar Association. Other sources for referrals include:
your state’s Protection and Advocacy agency, disability advocacy agencies, legal clinics or legal aid programs. Specify the type of situation you are dealing with so you can locate an attorney with expertise in that area. Consult an attorney for guidance regarding whether you have additional legal options.

Q: How do I find a veterinarian who understands my animal’s work-related needs?
A: It will be important for a veterinarian to be able to address not only your service animal’s needs, but also your disability-related needs as they affect the accessibility of his or her services. When you interview potential care providers, discuss how your animal works for you. If you have any ADA needs such as accessible parking, make sure they are available.

Q: Where can I get help if my companion service animal has to retire, or dies?
A: Visit the website www.deltasociety.org for information about dealing with this type of loss. Information about pet loss and bereavement, including a list of counselors, support groups and hotlines available to help people through the transition of separating from a service animal, are available on this web site.

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