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Disability Rights: Confusions abound regarding accommodation of service animals

The use by a disabled person of a legitimate service animal to aid them in tasks associated with their daily life is well-established in both therapeutic effectiveness and in disability rights laws. Such animals as visual aid dogs, hearing aid dogs, and other equally important service animals make a clear difference for thousands of Californians every day. But there has risen an issue with the proliferation of non-legitimate pets posing as service animals that is aided by shady web sites selling fake vests and other identifiers, without any requirements to prove these pets were properly trained and registered as required by law.

Legal provisions for the accommodations of service animals are contained in the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Air Carrier Access Act, the Federal Fair Housing Act, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, Unruh Civil Rights, Disabled Persons Act, and various other state and local laws. Each of these laws define and require different standards for service animals to accommodate persons with disabilities, and are often vague or unclear.

The ADA defines 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” or a similarly trained “miniature horse.” California law, however, does not consistently limit service animals by species. It is important to note that service animals are not pets, though many owners often elevate their pets’ status to bring them into shops and restaurants. An ordinary pet is sometimes passed off as an assistive animal when clad in a service vest or other identifying accessories easily purchased through online sites, which claim to “register” service animals without any screening. Such cheating a way around the law takes unfair advantage of policies designed to assist disabled persons, and creates a culture of distrust towards service animals and the people they help in their daily efforts at living a reasonable existence.

No matter how well behaved, a personal pet that is not trained to be a working animal can create a mess, interact negatively with a legitimate service animal trained not to fight back, or interfere with business operations. If things were to go wrong, a business, employer or housing provider could be held vicariously liable for harm caused on its premises. An establishment forced to regularly accommodate multiple animals can pay for increased cleaning costs or lose customers, tenants or employees, who fear or dislike animals, or have serious allergic reactions to animals in general.

Truly disabled persons with a demonstrated need have a right to use a service animal by law. Those who have no such demonstrable need are making things worse for others on the basis of their self-entitlement. New regulations are being considered to de-legitimize those fake vests and tags that are not issued by legitimate agencies, in order to bring better assurances to business owners that the animal accompanying a disabled person is indeed properly registered. The Cartwright Law Firm supports such regulations, and urges the people of California to likewise offer their support for this issue. If you have experienced discrimination towards yourself or your registered service animal, contact us today for a free consultation with a skilled disability rights attorney.

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