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

Feb 23, 2012
Tagged with:

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

  • DannyG

    Elizabeth, Thank You for setting things straight! I am a Disabled American Veteran (PTSD), and would like to pass along a bit more information. All of these online “Service Dog Registration” companies are GARBAGE! Since having my dog designated as a service dog, the ONLY place I am aware of that you have to “register” a service dog, is, of all places, at the V.A.! The ADA has made it against federal law to “vest” an animal not trained to perform a task related to your disability, but has left it up to the state to determine the penalty for that breach of FEDERAL LAW. In CA, it is felony fraud; however, here in AZ, there is no penalty – not yet anyway. I am in touch with 2 state representatives, and we are working to change that! I spent 9 years of my life serving our country, and these people that get a service vest for their cute little cuddly pet, or their best friend, just so they can take them everywhere, really $%^& me off! They are not only breaking federal law, & stomping on the constitutional rights of every disabled person, but they are making a mockery of what I have gone through while serving our country AND everything that our dogs have learned and what they do for us. That really bothers me. Also, don’t forget that miniature horses are still included as legal service animals. THANKS AGAIN!

  • bobl07

    Danny, thank you for your service and your comments.

  • Danny Giles

    (I may have duplicated this, it disappeared on me)
    Hey Bob, You know what, my brother; I am the grandson of Cherokee indians & (legal) Irish immigrants – it was my HONOR to serve our country. The ironic part of me & GYPSY GIRL’s story is tat her original owner in FL got mad at a drug dealer & got caught putting a bomb in his car. The “lady’s” siblings each took one of the 4 puppies, & Gypsy wound up at my friend’s house. He couldn’t keep her, and the very day she was going to the pound or ????, she stuck her head around the corner of his garage & I fell in love. She is a 14 pound ShihTzu, & will be 5 yrs old on Aug. 6th. I have had her since she was 7 mos. old. She helps me when I have nightmares, with anger management, when I have anxiety attacks, and with depression – all a part of PTSD. I PROUDLY served our country for 9 1/2 yrs, and hopefully she will serve me for a lot longer than that. Anyway, it is good to talk with you; I hope you are well. Shout at me all you want; I will check the site at least every other day. TAKE CARE!

  • bobl07

    Thank you Danny for your comments and for being a loyal NCHPAD blog reader.

  • Kyle Walpole

    This case actually didn’t involve whether or not the dog was a service animal under federal law nor the ADA. The dog was clearly identified as an Emotional Support Animal. Under the Fair Housing Act, an Emotional Support Animal (which is not trained to perform tasks) is allowed to accompany a person in their dwelling. The issue centered on whether or not the dorm constituted a part of the “public” area of the University owned property or whether it constituted a “dwelling” under the Fair Housing Act. The Court ruled that dorm housing is a dwelling under the Fair Act and that the plaintiff did meet the requirements of having an emotional disability.

  • bobl07

    Thank you for your comments.

  • Kimberli A. Malone-Sharman

    Is there a law that pertains to the retrieval of a service dog that has been stolen?

  • nsarco

    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.