NOTE: THIS ARTICLE IS CURRENTLY BEING UPDATED AND EXPANDED. Some sections are incomplete, but the information that is in place is accurate as of October 7, 2012.
Service dogs are individually trained to do things that their disabled partner cannot do for themselves because of their disability. There are many types of service dogs and many different types of tasks that might be performed, based on the disability of the individual owner, their abilities and limitations, and their specific needs. There are also different definitions of service dogs or service animals in different situations, depending on which law(s) apply.
For public access in the United States, including access to businesses, state and local government services, non-profits, schools, hotels and motels, restaurants, and hospitals (among others), the definition of "service animal" under the ADA generally applies. While it is not explicitly stated in the regulations for Title I (Employment), this definition generally applies to places of employment as well. It does not apply to federal entities, such as federal courts, federal agencies, the Supreme Court, Congress, or the White House. For other exceptions, see our FAQ Is there anywhere that service dogs are not permitted?
Effective March 15, 2011, under the Americans with Disabilities Act,
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.
Some people are under the mistaken impression that the issues of service animals for people with psychiatric disabilities or the use of emotional support animals under the ADA have changed with this new definition. They have not. These two items are the same as they have always been, but it became necessary for the DOJ to clarify their intent by spelling out in the definition that service dogs for people with mental/psychiatric disabilities are recognized and that emotional support animals are not. What has changed in this new definition is that formerly there were no restrictions on what species might be used for service work and now only dogs can be recognized as service animals. There is an exception permitting the use of miniature horses, with limitations, but they are not considered service animals under the ADA and are addressed in a separate section of the regulations.