Service Animals: Unleashing Their Rights and Responsibilities

Service Animals: Unleashing Their Rights and Responsibilities

When it comes to service dogs, their rights and responsibilities are not to be taken lightly. In Pennsylvania, there are specific laws in place to protect these remarkable animals and ensure they are given the accommodations they need. Let’s delve into the world of service animals and shed light on their legal standing.

Ensuring Public Access

Pennsylvania businesses are required by law to accommodate service animals in all public areas. Whether it’s a store, restaurant, or any establishment open to the public, denying service or accommodations to someone with a service animal is strictly prohibited. It’s important to note that these protections supersede any state or local health code, emphasizing the significance of ensuring public access for service animals.

Canines: The Chosen Ones

Guide Dog

In Pennsylvania and nationwide, dogs are the only animals that can be certified as service animals. While certain circumstances may recognize miniature horses as service animals in limited cases, it’s clear that dogs take center stage in the service animal world. Their unique abilities and training make them invaluable companions for individuals with disabilities.

Emotional Support vs. Service Animals

While emotional support animals play a crucial role in therapy and well-being plans, they fall into a different category than service animals under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Therefore, emotional support animals don’t enjoy the same legislative protections as service animals at the federal level. However, Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act (PHRA) uses both “guide” and “support” to reference these animals, creating complexities within civil laws.

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Navigating the Complexities

Assistance Dog

To ensure compliance with laws, businesses and housing facilities in Pennsylvania cannot legally refuse service to someone with an animal, nor can they exclude animals other than dogs or miniature horses. While federal law permits certain questions regarding the need for an animal due to a disability and the tasks it performs, the PHRA does not provide such permissions. This legal quirk can present challenges for individuals seeking access with their animals.

Regulations and Integrity

Pennsylvania passed the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act in 2018 to combat fraudulent claims for service animals and emotional support animals. This act empowers landlords to request documentation proving the animal owner’s disability or disability-related need. Misrepresenting such a need can result in fines of up to $1,000. Furthermore, this act shields landlords from liability in case of injury caused by a resident’s service or emotional support animal on their property.

School, Air Travel, and Beyond

Service Dog on Plane

Service animals are permitted in schools under the ADA, and therapy animals can also be used at school if deemed necessary for a student’s education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Additionally, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) mandates that airlines allow service animals and emotional support animals to accompany their handlers on flights.

The Leash Debate

Service animals must be under the control of their handlers, according to the ADA. They are generally required to be leashed or harnessed, unless doing so interferes with their ability to perform their tasks. In such cases, alternative means of control, such as voice commands or signals, should be used. This ensures the safety of both the service animal and those around them.

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The Legal Aftermath

In the unfortunate event that a service dog is attacked, the owner of the attacking animal may be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor, provided they knew or should have known about their dog’s propensity for unprovoked attacks. Penalties can include fines of up to $5,000, veterinary costs, and even the replacement of the service dog. On the other hand, if a service dog attacks someone or another animal, the handler is liable under Pennsylvania’s dog bite laws, potentially leading to damages for the injured party.

No Registration Required

Contrary to popular belief, service animals do not need to be registered or certified as “service animals” specifically. They are subject to local dog licensing and registration requirements, but the ADA protects individuals challenged regarding the legitimacy of their service animal’s role. What matters is the animal’s training and ability to assist its handler effectively.

In a world where service animals are invaluable companions to individuals with disabilities, understanding their rights and responsibilities is essential. Remember, if you have any questions or concerns about service or therapy animals in Pennsylvania, don’t hesitate to reach out to our legal team. Your civil rights matter.

Karen’s Kollars