The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to perform tasks for a disabled individual. These tasks must be directly related to the person’s disability.
As opposed to common perception, emotional support animals and therapy dogs are not considered service animals under the ADA.
ADA does not require service dogs to be certified under the law. In a scenario where the dog is not evident as a service animal, you are only allowed to ask whether the dog is required because of a disability and what tasks can the dog perform for the individual.
However, as this 2017 study points out, there is a substantial amount of confusion about what questions could be legally asked. Hence, it is almost impossible for business and staff in public places to determine whether the dig in question is indeed a service animal.
When someone misrepresents a service animal, it affects the reputation of actual service dogs, as fake service animals might not be trained on how to conduct themselves in public.
On the other hand, individuals with an ESA dog are needed to have an ESA letter from a licensed medical professional, recommending an emotional support animal to cope up with their disability. Though they are not recognized under ADA, these animals still get their owners advantages under the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act.
Existing rules covering assistance animals are often overlapping, fuelling confusion, and a lack of understanding. An increasing number of states are implementing laws to identify misrepresentation of service animals. However, we also require a collective effort from all pet owners to ensure that the system stays in place so that service animals and their respective owners can continue to be protected.