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Service dogs, a primer

Cadence, a four month old service dog in training, meets with Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and his dog, Bravo, at the Pentagon, May 23, 2012. Cadence is a member of the Warrior Transition Brigade Service Dog Training Program which was created to meet the needs of service members and veterans with psychological and physical injuries. DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo (Released)
Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo | Digital

Most Americans are at least vaguely familiar with service animals, the most common type being service dogs; but many citizens are often confused by the rules and regulations that surround service animals, a confusion that is compounded by the fact that there are more than a few fakers.

The rules and regulations that apply to service animals are outlined under the American’s with Disabilities Act, more commonly known as the ADA. Citizens should be aware of the distinct terms used when discussing the issue. According to the ADA National Network a service animal means, “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability”.

Recent revisions to the ADA also include miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities as service animals.

Any breed of dog can qualify as a service dog and service dogs fill a wide range of roles assisting with many different kinds of disabilities. When many people think of service dogs they picture guide dogs, which assist citizens with visual disabilities, but service dogs are also commonly used by the hearing impaired, those who experience seizures, veterans with PTSD, and even diabetics – dogs can be trained to smell their handlers breath to detect when blood sugar levels are becoming dangerous.

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Many citizens are fond of keeping emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs for mental health reasons and other factors, but under the ADA those animals do not qualify as service animals due to lack of specific training.

There is no formal process for obtaining a service dog nor is there any governmental entity that certifies or registers service dogs. Service dogs are not required to be professionally trained to qualify under the ADA.


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