December 20, 2011 by staff
Yarmulke Definition, Twenty little dogs dressed in festive outfits for holiday photos scurried around The Animal House pet shop in San Francisco’s Lower Haight last week during a fundraiser for Wonder Dog, an animal rescue service.
Skillet, a wiry-haired mutt with bug eyes, seemed especially excited, although not about wearing a yarmulke — it stayed on for about three seconds.
Such scenes of puppy love are typical here, a city named for St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. But as the city’s dog population has increased in recent years, there are now indications of a looming pushback that could soon put canines on a tighter leash. A look at the impending clashes over where dogs can play and live, and even how they are cared for, is the subject of my latest column.
One issue that’s sure to play a role in these debates is the definition of a “service animal.”
While dogs are not allowed in food establishments, California law makes an exception for service animals — pets that are assisting people who are disabled. And in a city where housing is scarce and it’s difficult to find an apartment that allows for pets, tenants can sometimes force landlords to make an exception for a dog if it’s a service animal.
In March, new regulations from the U.S. Department of Justice kicked in that define what constitutes a service animal based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. The interpretation is fairly narrow, according to ananlysis by Syracuse University:
A service animal is a dog that is “individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” The work or tasks the service animal performs must be directly related to the handler’s disability.
The service animal must be under the handler’s control and must have a harness, leash or other tether. If handler is unable to use these because of their disability or because use would interfere with the safe and effective performance of work or tasks, the animal must otherwise be under the handler’s control (i.e., voice control, signals, or other effective means.) Miniature horses trained to do tasks to aid the person with disabilities are exceptions to the general rule that service animals must be dogs.
Because service animals must “do work or perform tasks,” emotional support and comfort animals are not included in the definition of “service animal.” Therefore, animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals as defined under the new DOJ regulations. Federal law does not require places of public accommodation to modify “no pets” policies for therapy animals.
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