What is a Service Animal?

Here we go, another in my Guide to Service Animals Series. This question is asked often when you present yourself as a service animal user. When it is asked how do you respond? Through a process of trial and error, here is what I say and do:

Step 1. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that this is not common information and is only common sense once you learn about it.

Step 2. Talk about it!

The simple step guide is short for this one, and here is what my practiced response is.

“According to the American’s With Disabilities Act, a service animal is any trained animal that assists a disabled person with their daily activities. What this means is that a person who has at least one part of their life altered by a disability has the right to train a dog, a cat, a monkey, a horse, or any trainable animal to assist them. Some assistance activities include medication retrieval, assistance with carrying items, walking, balancing, and even dealing with Seizures.”

If they need more explanation at this point, if I can, I show them the command “Balance” that Sprite and I have worked out, and let them see her assist me in walking five steps. Usually this covers it all. If I am not up to it I respond by citing examples of how she works, or, how other service animals work.

“Only Dogs can be service animals!”

Response.

Step 1. Deep breath, remind yourself  that they are likely uneducated and it is your duty to teach them while being calm so that they actually learn.

Step 2. Recite the practiced statement.

According to the federal law as it currently stands, any trainable animal can be a service animal. Although they must meet specific behavioral requirements such as being quite during a movie, or staying with their human, even a cat or a monkey can be trained. In Albuquerque, New Mexico there is a man with a service duck, a service parrot assists a woman, and recently the New York Times printed an article on Miniature service horses.

“Animals are Dirty. You might make my customers sick!”

The recited and practiced statement:

The federal law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of personal religious belief towards animals, allergies, and therefore you must admit me into this building. My service animal is a requirement for my own well being and as you can see she is wearing a dress. I dress my service cat so that she doesn’t shed as freely to protect other persons. I cannot predict their allergies, but, I do my best to reasonably accommodate their needs, while expecting you to follow the law and allow this reasonable accommodation.”

If there are more questions that need answers, post a comment. If you wish your question to remain anonymous, note it in the comment and I will not make it public.

A side note, there are places that the law does not require access for service animals. These include, religious buildings and private homes. Doctors offices, hospitals, stores, and buildings are required by law to admit all service animals and their users. Any public place must let you in.

If you run a shop and are not certain how to ask about a service animal, ask calmly if the person bringing their animal in is a pet, I can guarantee that the response for a true service animal will be, “No, this is my service animal.” Most people faking the use of a service animal will slip.

Other Posts in the Guide Series: The Antidote for Discrimination Is…

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1 Comment

  1. […] conversation was held on MSN. My friend is using the Alias Tiffy, in respect to her cat. She asked the question about service animals and our discussion illuminates a bit more about what a cat is capable of. Eventually I will […]


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