Service animals are not pets. Service animals are animals that assist a person in daily activities. You are probably familiar with some types of service animals, such as guide dogs for people who are blind. Other service animals, such as a snake that can warn its owner of an on-coming seizure, might be less familiar.
- Services that animals commonly provide include guiding, alerting a person with hearing loss to sounds, pulling someone, alerting someone to an on-coming seizure, picking things up, opening doors, and reassurance. Animals may provide other less common services as well.
- While some service animals have been specially trained, in many cases special training is not required. For example, for someone with an anxiety disorder, having an animal to pet can bring their anxiety under control, whether or not the animal has received any special training.
- There is no national license for service animals. Vermont does not license service animals, either. Some service animals will wear a vest or a special leash, but some may not.
- How can you know if an animal is a service animal? Disability experts recommend you take the person’s word for it. The law does permit you to ask what service an animal provides, but only if you do this consistently, with every service animal. The law also permits you to ask for documentation that the animal assists a person, but, again, only if you consistently require it from everyone with an animal. Someone fleeing a violent situation may not have brought paperwork with them or have any way of providing the documentation.
- If an animal is disruptive to services, the first step is to work with the person to control the animal. If the disruptive behavior continues you may ask that the animal, but not the person with a disability or Deaf person, leave the premises.
- If another resident has allergies to an animal, care should be taken to minimize contact. Most people with service animals will be more than happy to cooperate fully. Allergies rarely rise to the level of disability, so generally if there is a conflict, an organization should err on the side of allowing the service animal’s presence. If a person’s allergies are severe or do rise to the level of a disabilitiy, then a program needs to explore options for accommodating both individuals’ needs.
- People with a disability or Deaf people are responsible for the care of their animals. However, some may need initial assistance with animal care, especially if a partner or caregiver cared for the animal in the past. You may have volunteers who would be happy to help. If none of your current volunteers has this interest, your local animal shelter might be helpful in recruiting new, animal-friendly volunteers.
For more information: Webinar on Service Animals in Shelter