Sunday, November 27, 2011

Federal law states only canines now qualify as disabled service animals

Federal law states only canines now qualify as disabled service animals

Federal law states only canines now qualify as disabled service animals

Certification obtained by iguana owner has no backing

Sorry... I couldn't resist this photo for this story.

Staff Writer

(Aug. 6, 2010) Ocean City resident Wayne Short may have his pet iguana certified as a service animal, but a recent change to a federal law means the certification now holds little meaning.

Short caused a stir in the resort this summer by taking Hillary, a 4-foot-long iguana, out on the Boardwalk. In response, the City Council passed a law banning all nondomestic animals from public places.

To get around that, Short obtained certification for the lizard that says she is a service animal trained to help Short with a disability. Federal Americans With Disabilities Act regulations require public establishments to admit service animals, so Short believed he could continue to take Hillary for her daily walks.

Newly hatched Service Iguanas-to-be:)
Young service Iguanas in training- in obedience class.  This is the "long stay":)

But the federal government adopted changes to the ADA law just two weeks ago, with a focus on the definition of a service animal. Under the new law, which will go into effect six months after the July 23 date it was adopted, only dogs can be qualified as service animals for disabled owners.
Prior to July 23, the ADA law defined a service animal “as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.” The new law removes the phrase “or other animal” and adds a requirement that the dog must have training to perform tasks that are directly related to the specific disability of its owner.

“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 law now reads.

Don't feed your service iguana in a restaurant.:)

Toni Eames is the president of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, an advocacy group that represents people who are partnered with service dogs. She said the group worked closely with the government when it was drafting the changes to the ADA law and the leadership is pleased with the new regulations.

“We worked very hard to get these changes,” she said. “A lot of people out there think just because their pet provides comfort to them, that means they can take them anywhere. It’s been a nightmare. We’re glad the law stresses training now.”

Eames is blind and has a seeing-eye dog that helps her with daily tasks. She said many people flaunted the previous law by falsely claiming their pets are service animals and that made it hard for truly disabled people with properly trained animals to be respected.

A leash-trained Service  Iguana?  Seriously?  What does he help you with??
“The iguana situation is the kind of thing we’re so happy this law is now preventing,” Eames said.

The key to the new law is training. Just because a disabled person has a dog, that does not mean the dog is necessarily a qualified service animal. The dog must be trained to do a specific task and that task must be something that directly helps the owner with his or her disability.

A seeing-eye dog that guides a blind person when walking on the street is a service animal, because the trained task is directly related to the disability. A dog that can bark to alert a blind owner to a ringing telephone is not a service animal, according to the new rules, because the blind person can hear the phone.

“Needing an animal and having it actually trained to help you are two different things,” Eames said.

Another important change is that animals that provide emotional support or comfort to their owners are no longer considered service animals under the law.

All this means that Hillary the iguana, regardless of any training or certification, is not a service animal because only dogs now qualify under the law. She likely never qualified in the first place, according to multiple service dog organizations that expressed outrage over Hillary’s socalled “certification.”

According to both the new and old ADA laws, there is no certification required for service animals. While some states do require certification at that level, Maryland is not one of them and there is no federal listing of service animals.

There are organizations which, for a fee, will send a certificate and identification card stating your pet is a service animal, such as the National Service Animal Registry that certified Hillary. These groups are not affiliated with the government and the certificates they provide do not give the animals any rights under the law.

So regardless of Hillary’s ID card, the law now says she is not a service animal and can legally be banned from public places.

There are creatures other than dogs that can be trained to do specific tasks for disabled people. The nonprofit group Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled has been training Capuchin monkeys to assist quadriplegic citizens for 30 years.

“The monkeys can help get something to eat or drink, help put in a DVD or CD, help a person use the computer, turn the lights on and off, scratch an itch or reposition a leg or arm after a muscle spasm. They’re simple everyday tasks we take for granted,” said, Megan Talbert, executive director of the Boston-based organization.

Talbert said the small monkeys, weighing between 6 and 8 pounds as adults, are perfect to train as assistance animals for people who have been paralyzed because they can do those types of small tasks quite easily. It takes Helping Hands two or three years to fully train each monkey and they offer the helpers to disabled people at no cost.

The changes to the ADA law mean the trained monkeys no longer qualify as service animals because they are not dogs. Talbert said that will have little effect on how Helping Hands operates because the organization only trains its monkeys for in-home use. Talbert said they are not suited to go out in public anyway.

“Our policy is that our monkeys are not supposed to be doing tasks in restaurants or grocery stores or anywhere in public. They do best in environments where there is stability, and they are going to be frightened by a lot of activity or people they don’t know around them,” she said.

She said the new law could affect the organization in a few ways. The volunteers take the monkeys on airplanes when they are ready to be placed with an owner, so their travel could be affected. Also, some states where the monkeys are placed require pet owners to register or get permits for exotic pets, so she said it might be harder to get the monkeys recognized since they no longer fall under the definition of a service animal.
The new ADA law does recognize one species of animal other than dogs: miniature horses. The law makes an exception for specially trained miniature guide horses, saying they must be given the same rights as service dogs if it is possible for the establishment to reasonably accommodate the horse.

Representatives from The Guide Horse Foundation in North Carolina that trains and places miniature guide horses did not return e-mails and phone calls seeking comment.

Service Dogs Only (in most cases)

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