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May I ask a patient with an emotional support dog to take the dog out of my practice for sanitary reasons?

Provided by:  Jennifer Kirschenbaum, Esq.

May 31, 2017

 

Question:

Hi Jennifer, 

Thanks for the email on service dogs!  This just came up in our practice.  A patient that has some mental problems, came in with her puppy, that she states is a service animal in training.  She is training the puppy.  However, she held it in her arms.  It did not appear at all that this is a service dog.  When confronted she made a huge scene, even after we allowed her to keep the dog in the office. She claims the puppy alerts her when she is having a seizure.  She was diagnosed with psychogenic seizures. The pup is a comfort animal more than service dog.  She is taking advantage of the laws.  I find it very disturbing that people can get away with this.  What measures can be taken in a case such as this?

Thank you!

C

Answer:

Attorney Issac Cwibeker - an associate in K&K's regulatory compliance and healthcare litigation department - has taken the lead on response -   

There’s an important difference noted between service dogs and “emotional support animals.”  The law only provides protection for individuals with service dogs that have proper identification.

Specifically, the ADA.gov website provides: 
 
“While Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. These support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. Even though some states have laws defining therapy animals, these animals are not limited to working with people with disabilities and therefore are not covered by federal laws protecting the use of service animals.  Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning.”

Here are two links to the ADA.gov website discussing service animals vs. emotional support/assistant animals. 

https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html

https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

States have their own rules to be mindful of.  And, it can get tricky. In New York, for example, the state enacted laws to exactly curtail such abuse, and the law now provides that it’s a misdemeanor to misrepresent a pet as a service animal. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 118. And “service dogs” are only such animals licensed, and trained by qualified trainers (i.e., certification).
 
Furthermore, in New York, a place of public accommodation (e.g., a doctor’s office) is permitted to ask you if a dog is a service animal if it’s not clear. For example, if the dog is not wearing an identification vest. However, you cannot require them to present a license, document, or other proof that your animal is a service animal.
 
You may want to check this chart for your state specific issue:
 
https://www.animallaw.info/topic/table-state-assistance-animal-laws
 
With regards to emotion support animals, there is some protection for individuals with emotional support animals, but it’s very limited to housing.
 
If a landlord has a “no pets policy” then protections exists for individuals with emotional support animals to be permitted to keep such animals in the unit as a “reasonable accommodation.”
 
They need to provide their landlord with a letter from a mental health professional stating they have a disability and explaining how a pet is needed to help cope with the disability and/or improves its symptoms.
 
Here’s the Federal Register outlining this issue:
 
https://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/FINALRULE/Pet_Ownership_Final_Rule.pdf
 
And another great resource from the Humane Society of the United States that provides further resources and links:
 
http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/assistance-animals-tenants-rights.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/


Hope this helps! 


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