Service Dogs and the Workplace

Service Dogs and the Workplace

03/14/17 Laura Gibbons

By Sandra Bennett, LCSW

Until recently when the topic of service dogs came up, most people probably thought of a seeing- eye dog. More recently, the definition has expanded to include many different disabilities, and research is helping us continue to understand and develop ways that dogs can assist people who have unique challenges in their everyday life.

According to the Department of Justice revised ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), Title II (which covers state & local government programs) and Title III (which covers businesses, aka, places of public accommodation such as restaurants & retail merchants), the definition of a service animal is as follows:

“A service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals.”

The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be related to the individual’s disability. The ADA has a lengthy list of examples; however, each state can either broaden or lessen the scope of tasks covered under the act. Under the Indiana Service Dogs Law, and specifically the section titled “Under Public Accommodations Law,” a service animal refers to an animal trained as:

1) A hearing animal;
2) A guide animal;
3) An assistance animal;
4) A seizure alert animal;
5) A mobility animal;
6) A psychiatric service animal; or
7) An autism service animal.

This list is somewhat limited based on the wide array of tasks now being provided by service animals. Legally, these dogs are welcome in places where pet dogs are not. Unfortunately, the practice of non-disabled people passing off pet dogs as service dogs has eroded the rights of real assistance dog handlers especially with invisible disabilities.

Listed below are some specific categories and definitions of service dogs, some being relatively new.

Diabetic alert dogs. Also known as DADs, these dogs can smell changes associated with hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic events and alert their humans to blood sugar highs and lows before they become dangerous.

Seizure response dogs. Not to be confused with seizure alert dogs, these dogs are trained to provide help to a person experiencing an epileptic seizure. These dogs can be trained to bark for help or to press an alert system during a person’s seizure. They can also get a person out of an unsafe place as well as bring medicine or a phone to a person coming out of a seizure.

FASD service dogs. As an emerging category of service dogs, these dogs support children who were exposed to alcohol prenatally and have been diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). These children may have physical and mental difficulties as well as behavioral problems. FASD dogs are trained similarly to autism service dogs.

Allergy detection dogs. With the rise in food allergies has come another category of medical service dog. Allergy detection dogs are trained to sniff out and alert their human to such things such as peanuts or gluten. This type of dog provides kids with a greater sense of independence and gives parents a great sense of security.

Other kinds of working dogs, including therapy dogs and emotional support dogs, are not classified as service animals as they are not trained to perform a specific task to help their handlers. In most cases, these kinds of dogs are not afforded the same privileges as other service dogs, although they can provide valuable support in a number of venues.

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