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Service animals are animals that have been trained to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. Service animals may also be referred to as "assistance animals," "assist animals," "support animals," or "helper animals" depending on country.


The international assistance animal community has categorized three types of assistance animals:[1]

  1. Guide animal—to guide the blind
  2. Hearing animal—to signal the hearing impaired
  3. Service animal—to do work for persons with disabilities other than blindness or deafness.

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as "any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability."[2][3]

As of September 2010, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has redefined a "service animal" for the purposes of the ADA as "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 service animals for the purposes of this definition."[4] This revised definition excludes all comfort animals, which are pets that owners keep with them for emotional reasons. (For example, the owner may feel calmer when he or she is near the pet.) Unlike a service animal, a comfort animal is not trained to perform specific, measurable tasks directly related to the person's disability. Common tasks for service animals include flipping light switches, picking up dropped objects, alerting the person to an alarm, or similar disability-related tasks.[5] The Civil Rights Division carved out an exception to this new rule for miniature horses. Although they are not included in the new definition of "service animal", they are also protected under the ADA under specific circumstances.[4][5]

There is no license or registration process for service animals in the United States. As a result, any person could claim that any animal was a "service animal" and demand to bring it into places where animals are normally banned, such as food preparation areas, hospitals, pet-free apartment complexes, and airplanes. A primary goal in revising the definition was to reduce abuse and fraud committed by people who falsely claimed that their cats, birds, ferrets, reptiles and other pets were service animals.[6]


Despite regulations or rules that deny access to animals in restaurants and other public places, in many countries, guide dogs and other types of assistance dogs are protected by law, and therefore may accompany their handlers most places that are open to the public. Laws and regulations vary worldwide:

  • In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits any business, government agency, or other organization that provides access to the general public from barring guide dogs. However, religious organizations are not required to provide such access. Also, current regulations have redefined "service animal" to exclude all species of animals other than domestic dogs; miniature horses do not fall under this definition, but may fall under ADA protection. The Fair Housing Act requires that landlords allow tenants to have guide dogs in residences that normally have a No Pets policy and no extra fees may be charged for such tenants. In addition, the use of service monkeys in residences falls under the protection of the Fair Housing Act. Whether guide dogs in training have the same rights or not usually falls on each individual state government.
  • In most South American countries and Mexico, guide dog access depends solely upon the goodwill of the owner or manager. In more tourist-heavy areas, guide dogs are generally welcomed without problems. In Brazil, however, a 2006 federal decree[7] requires allowance of guide dogs in all public and open to public places. The Brasília Metro has developed a program which trains guide dogs to ride it.
  • In Europe, the situation varies. Some countries have laws that govern the entire country and sometimes the decision is left up to the respective regions.
  • In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 protects guide dog handlers. Each state and territory has its own laws, which may differ slightly.
  • In Canada, guide dogs along with other service animals are allowed anywhere that the general public is allowed, as long as the owner is in control of them. Fines for denying a service animal access can be up to $3000 in Canada.[8]
  • In South Korea, it is illegal to deny access to guide dogs in any areas that are open to the public. Violators are fined for no more than 2 million won.[9]

Animals for individual assistanceEdit

Most service animals are dogs; however, members of other species may be trained to perform tasks to help their disabled partners live independent lives. Other animals include:

  • Capuchin monkeys, which can be trained to perform manual tasks such as grasping items, operating knobs and switches, and turning the pages of a book.[10]
  • Miniature horses, which can be trained to guide the blind,[11] to pull wheelchairs, or support for persons with Parkinson's disease.

Helper monkeyEdit

File:TSA Service Monkey.jpg

A helper monkey is a type of assistance animal, similar to an assistance dog, that is specially trained to help quadriplegics, other people with severe spinal cord injuries or others with mobility-impairments.

Helper monkeys are usually trained in schools by private organizations, taking 7 years to train on average, and are able to serve 25–30 years (two to three times longer than a guide dog).[12]

After being socialized in a human home as infants, the monkeys undergo extensive training before being placed with a quadriplegic. Around the house, the monkeys help out by doing tasks including microwaving food, washing the quadriplegic's face, and opening drink bottles.

See alsoEdit


  1. International Association of Assistance Dog Partners Retrieved on October 17, 2007.
  2. Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals in Places of Business, US Department of Justice. July 1996; last updated January 14, 2008. Retrieved November 9, 2010.
  3. A Brief Information Resource on Assistance Animals for the Disabled, National Agricultural Library, Animal Welfare Information Center. August 2003; updated April 2004. Retrieved November 9, 2010.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Part 35 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services.
  5. 5.0 5.1 includeonly>Ravn, Karen. "Service dogs are beyond fetching", 12 July 2011.
  6. includeonly>Ravn, Karen. "A seeing-eye ferret? Now 'service animal' defined more narrowly", 18 July 2011.
  7. Decreto nº 5904. URL accessed on 2012-06-27.
  8. Canada – Alberta – Service Dogs Act. URL accessed on 2012-06-27.
  9. [dead link]
  10. Helping Hands Retrieved on October 17, 2007.
  11. Guide Horse Retrieved on October 17, 2007.
  12. Monkey Helpers Lend a 'Helping Hand'. URL accessed on August 14, 2006.

External linksEdit

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