Friday, October 30, 2015

Service Animal or Support Animal?

Unmasking the complexities of service and support animals
Unmasking the complexities of service and support animals
Image source: Pixabay
Perhaps after reading the January 20, 2015 post entitled "Service Animals Dos and Don'ts" you thought you had it all figured out. Until you heard about a kangaroo at a McDonald's in Beaver Dam. This post will hopefully help you unmask some of the complexities about state and federal laws regarding service or support animals in the public library.

As a refresher, the Wisconsin State Legislature gives this definition: "Service animal" means a guide dog, signal dog, or other animal that is individually trained or is being trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, including the work or task of guiding a person with impaired vision, alerting a person with impaired hearing to intruders or sound, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items. (Source)

If a person with a disability uses the public library with a service animal, consider the following from the ADA National Network's booklet "Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals: Where are they allowed and under what conditions?" which is available for free online as a PDF and webpage. 

From Section V: Handler's Rights, A) Public Facilities and Accommodations:

Titles II and III of the ADA makes it clear that service animals are allowed in public facilities and accommodations. A service animal must be allowed to accompany the handler to any place in the building or facility where members of the public, program participants, customers, or clients are allowed. Even if the business or public program has a “no pets” policy, it may not deny entry to a person with a service animal. Service animals are not pets. So, although a “no pets” policy is perfectly legal, it does not allow a business to exclude service animals.
When a person with a service animal enters a public facility or place of public accommodation, the person cannot be asked about the nature or extent of his disability. Only two questions may be asked:
1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
These questions should not be asked, however, if the animal’s service tasks are obvious. For example, the questions may not be asked if the dog is observed guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision, pulling a person’s wheelchair, or providing assistance with stability or balance to an individual with an observable mobility disability.4
A public accommodation or facility is not allowed to ask for documentation or proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. Local laws that prohibit specific breeds of dogs do not apply to service animals.5
A place of public accommodation or public entity may not ask an individual with a disability to pay a surcharge, even if people accompanied by pets are required to pay fees. Entities cannot require anything of people with service animals that they do not require of individuals in general, with or without pets. If a public accommodation normally charges individuals for the damage they cause, an individual with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal. (Source)
While animals can provide lots of support to owners, only service animals are protected by ADA law
While animals can provide emotional support
to humans, only service animals are protected
by ADA law. Image source: Pixabay
Are you still unsure about whether an emotional support alpaca is considered a service animal?  You are not alone, as many people benefit from having their pets at their sides. In addition, many people rely on companion animals for legitimate therapeutic or emotional support reasons. For example, a growing number of colleges are responding to students' needs for animal companions in campus housing. But what does this mean at a Wisconsin public library?
Returning to the ADA booklet cited above, the following distinction is made: 
From Section III: Other Support or Therapy Animals
While Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. These support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. Even though some states have laws defining therapy animals, these animals are not limited to working with people with disabilities and therefore are not covered by federal laws protecting the use of service animals.  Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning.
Wisconsin currently does not have a law defining a therapy animal, emotional support animal, or companion animal. If you are still unsure, contact your legal counsel for clarity.  Be sure to communicate expected procedures to all library staff.

Written by:
Tessa Michaelson Schmidt
Public Library Development Team