How was the definition of "service animal" changed July 23, 2010?

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On July 23, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder signed final regulations revising the Department’s ADA regulations, including a revised definition of “service animal.” This final rule was published in the Federal Register September 15, 2010, and the effective date is six months after that publication.

Effective March 15, 2011, “Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual´s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal´s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”

Key changes include the following:
1. Only dogs will be recognized as service animals.
2. Service animals are required to be leashed or harnessed except when performing work or tasks where such tethering would interfere with the dog's ability to perform.
3. Service animals are exempt from breed bans as well as size and weight limitations.
4. Though not considered service animals, businesses are generally required to accommodate the use of miniature horses under specific conditions.

Until the effective date, existing service animals of all species will continue to be covered under the ADA regulations.

Existing policies that were clarified or formalized include the following:
1. Dogs whose sole function is “the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship” are not considered service dogs under the ADA.
2. The use of service dogs for psychiatric and neurological disabilities is explicitly protected under the ADA.
3. “The crime deterrent effects of an animal's presence” do not qualify that animal as a service animal and “an animal individually trained to provide aggressive protection, such as an attack dog, is not appropriately considered a service animal.”

These previously existing policies are already in effect.

For further reading, consult:
Final Rule for Title II:
Title II Fact Sheet:
Text of Revised Title II Regulation:
Final Rule for Title III
Title III Fact Sheet
Text of Revised Title III Regulation:

Note: The term "hander" was replaced with "individual" on March 11, 2011.
"Additionally, the final rule contains an error in wording that may cause confusion over the interpretation of the rule. Specifically, on page 56250, in § 36.104 (“Definitions”), the “service animal” definition includes the following language: “The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability.” Because a service animal is not always controlled by the individual with a disability, the service animal's “handler” is not necessarily the individual with a disability. To clear up any confusion, the word “handler's” should be replaced with the word “individual's” in that sentence. Similar use of the word “handler” in the section-by-section analysis contained in Appendix A to part 36 also needs to be changed to “individual” so it is clear that the individual with a disability does not necessarily need to be the animal's handler in order to be covered by the rule's provisions."

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