Lawsuit over “Pet” vs. “Therapy Animal” vs.” Service Animal” in university dorm

Feb 23, 2012
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The US courts are currently trying to determine what exactly qualifies as a “service animal”. The Justice Department has the responsibility of enforcing ADA legislation on service animals- but what, exactly, is a service animal? Some want to say that their pet dog, cat, monkey, snake or tarantula is a service animal because it helps them feel calm and less anxious.

In the early stages of this process some people are asking for allowances for animals that do not meet the ADA definition of a service animal. The regulations clearly state that a service animal is not a pet, but is a dog specifically trained to do certain tasks the person with a disability cannot do for themselves.  The process of having the courts make the determination case by case will help establish the precedent for a definition that can be used going forward.

One case now being considered by the court was recently brought by a student at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The student who has a psychological disability requested to keep a dog prescribed by a nurse as a “therapy dog” to help her stay calm when she was overanxious in her dorm room. The university is responsible for the health of all students in a dorm. This includes those with allergies to dander, dog hair and so on. It can be a delicate balance to meet the needs of all students in the dorm. What to do?

In order for the student to have the therapy dog in her dorm room the dog would have to meet the criterion of a service animal. These criterion include: only dogs (not other animals), dogs which are kept solely to perform a specific task and which are not pets, and dogs that have been certified and specifically trained to perform a necessary task or function that the person cannot do on their own.

If the dog was a pet prior to training, or if it is a pet trained to provide comfort or emotional support, it does not qualify as a service animal under the ADA.

Check it out on the ADA site:

Author: Tanya

  • Print Poster

    The term, service animal alone is confusing already. There should be a criteria where the animal should pass the requirements. It’s unfair to proclaim the dog as the only legal service animal.

  • BobLujano

    The law is clear on what is a service animal…it’s a dog that is trained. However, we the people can make this change. It is up to us to have laws changed that benefit all people. As of right now, only dogs have the certifications to be a service animal. The law is written as a service animal to be broad in definition in the event that new animals can be written in as service animals.

  • bobl07

    Hi Elizabeth Reeve,
    Thank you for pointing out the inaccurate comment, which has been removed. We appreciate any valuable information in regards to legal clarification. Please continue to comment on our blog when available. sincerely, Bob