The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a revised regulation on Aug. 17 that sets in place a national policy for the presence of animals in VA clinics, hospitals and on all VA properties. It defines “service animals” in conformity with existing federal regulations enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Only dogs, individually trained to be service animals, are allowed on VA premises.
The Department of Justice has defined “service animal” to mean “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” A separate, less expansive, exception is made for miniature horses
The latest codification of federal regulations about service animals is found in 28 CFR 35.136. Entities covered by these regulations may exclude a service animal for only two reasons; if it is out of control and the animal’s handler cannot or will not control the animal, or if the animal is not housebroken.
Just two questions are permitted. The person with the animal may be asked if it is required for a disability. They may also be asked to specify the “work or task” that the animal is trained to perform. If the dog’s work or task is obvious, such as assisting a blind person, questions are not permitted.
Miniature horses are allowed but may be restricted based on the site’s ability to reasonably accommodate the animal. The horse must be housebroken and under the owner’s control. The site must be able to safely handle the horse’s type, size and weight. And, the presence of a miniature horse must not “compromise legitimate safety requirements” concerning the operation of the site or facility.
The VA’s action is in line with those of many state and local governments. Individuals have been using the ADA to claim that a variety of usual and unusual animals are service animals. Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, has banned kangaroos after a woman took one into a local restaurant as a service animal. In Nixa, Missouri, a man brought a boa constrictor into a restaurant, claiming that the owners had to allow it as it was his service animal. The ADA does not permit snakes to be service animals.
Other federal laws have different regulations concerning animals, such as the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carriers Act. United Airlines has a detailed set of instructions for people with service animals who wish to fly. The animal must be able to fit in front of the passenger or the passenger must purchase an additional seat. Animals in training are not accepted.
Rodents, reptiles, snakes, ferrets are not allowed in the cabin of the aircraft for any reason.
Individuals may have pets, untrained or trained animals, for many reasons. They can provide emotional and psychiatric support and comfort. Some may have training for specific tasks.
The definition of “service animal” under the Americans with Disabilities Act is restricted to “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” They can also be miniature horses. No other animal falls under the legal provisions of the ADA at this time. Individual states and localities may have less restrictive laws and regulations.