Service animals and assistance animals are advancing far beyond family pet status. High-performance creatures are helping military veterans and other people adapt to and overcome many disabilities. Trainers are equipping animals to help humans burdened with an increasing variety of physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, and emotional disorders, injuries, and illnesses. These highly trained animals are enriching disabled people’s lives in amazing ways. This article describes some of the expanding variety of game-changing benefits from animal behavioral research. The article also describes some practical issues affecting service animal and assistance animal availability and usage.
Service Animals and Assistance Animals – Assistance Animal Categories
Federal law offers antidiscrimination protections for disabled people that use or want to use “assistance animals.” The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) described assistance animals in a 2013 joint notice (the “2013 Joint Notice” about antidiscrimination rules on public housing and public facilities.
HUD’s publication of the 2013 Joint Notice offers this description of assistance animals at https://archives.hud.gov/news/2013/servanimals_ntcfheo2013-01.pdf:
“An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Assistance animals perform many disability-related functions, including but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, alerting persons to impending seizures, or providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support.”
Assistance animals include the subcategories, “service animals” and “emotional support animals.” More than one blog article says assistance animals may include such exotic species as ferrets, boa constrictors, parrots, potbellied pigs, and capuchin monkeys.
Service Animals – Definitions
The 2013 Joint Notice says DOJ regulations under the US Fair Housing Act (the “FH Act”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) define a “service animal” narrowly as a “dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
Service Animals – Tasks and Types
An article published by dogster.com lists 10 specific types of service dogs among the growing varieties of service dog categories. The list includes guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, seizure response dogs, psychiatric service dogs, autism support dogs, FASD service dogs, and allergy detection dogs.
Service Animals – Some Big Claims
Some trainers claim that seizure service dogs can detect early signs of oncoming seizures and help seizure sufferers prepare for seizure episodes. The trainers claim that seizure service dogs can smell and react to chemical changes that people’s bodies produce before and during seizures.
Service Animals – No Petting or Playing While On-Duty
Service animals receive extremely detailed training that requires the animals’ to remain focused and undistracted while they are working. Therefore, service animal trainers instruct animal handlers and owners to discourage people from trying to pet or interact with the animals while they are working.
Service Animals – Expensive to Train and Expensive to Purchase
The training requirements to produce a service animal are much more complex than training a dog to finish or roll over. Cost varies according to a particular animal’s trained skill sets, but than one online article indicates that that service dog costs can run between $10,000 and $60,000.
Service Animals – Not Covered by Health Insurance
Insurance does not normally cover service animal purchase costs. Likewise, a person cannot purchase a service animal with benefits through Medicare, Medicaid, or the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, VA is expanding benefits to help some veterans provide veterinary care for service animals.
Emotional Support Animals (Also known as “companion animals”)
Emotional support animals are assistance animals that help comfort and calm people that have emotional or psychological difficulties. The 2013 Joint Notice says the DOJ regulations exclude “emotional support animals” from the “service animal” definition because:
"'the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.' Thus, trained dogs are the only species of animal that may qualify as service animals under the ADA (there is a separate provision regarding trained miniature horses), and emotional support animals are expressly precluded from qualifying as service animals under the ADA."
Emotional Support Animals – No Training Required
Emotional support animals do not require the investment of training necessary to develop service animals, so emotional support animals cost much less to purchase.
More Reading About Service Animals and Assistance Animals
More online articles about service animals and assistance animals appear from time to time as interest in the subject grows. We will revisit this topic in a future article about legal and public policy issues affecting service animal and assistance animal availability and usage.
About the Authors
Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers. They are also active members of the Indiana State Bar Association and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
Jeff is a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the Indiana Bar Foundation. He is also a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Indiana Association of Mediators. He served as the 2014-15 President of the Indiana State Bar Association, and he is a registered civil mediator.
Find more information about these and other topics on YouTube and at www.HawkinsElderLaw.com. Facebook users can like @HawkinsElderLaw on Facebook. Twitter users can follow @HawkinsElderLaw. The LinkedIn crowd can follow us at https://www.linkedin.com/company/hawkinselderlaw. You can also call us at 812-268-8777.
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 See a copy of the 2013 Joint Notice at https://archives.hud.gov/news/2013/servanimals_ntcfheo2013-01.pdf.
 See, for example, disabilityguide.com’s “6 Different Types of Service Animals” at https://disabilityguide.com/6-different-types-of-service-animals.html.
 See “10 Types of Service Dogs and What They Do” published online by dogster.com at https://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/10-types-of-service-dogs-and-what-they-do.
 For an description of seizure service dog training, see the article, “How does 4 Paws for Ability meet the needs of children with seizures?” published online by 4 Paws for Ability at https://4pawsforability.org/seizure-assistance-dog/.
 See “How to cover the costs of a service dog,” by Kellye Guinan, Last updated: 24 June 2019, at https://www.finder.com/service-dog-costs-and-financing-options. See also “Life-changing companions: How to afford a service dog,” by bankrate.com staff, published February 28, 2019, at https://www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/how-to-afford-a-service-dog/.
 See “Veterinary Health Benefits for Mental Health Mobility Service Dogs” published online at https://www.va.gov/HEALTHPARTNERSHIPS/docs/CCIServiceDogFactSheet.pdf.
 A couple of general articles on the subject include the American Kennel Association’s article entitled “Service Dogs 101—Everything You Need to Know” at https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/service-dog-training-101/ and the “Service dog” Wikipedia page at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_dog.