—A Weighty Issue
“The Act defines a person with a handicap as (1) individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment; and (3) individuals with a record of such an impairment. The term “physical or mental impairment” includes, but is not limited to, such diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection, mental retardation, emotional illness, drug addiction (other than addiction caused by current, illegal use of a controlled substance) and alcoholism.
“In New York City, in order to obtain a Service Dog (as defined below), an individual must provide documentation of a disability or need for an accommodation from a doctor or other licensed professional providing psychotherapy pursuant to the Act or NYC Civil Rights Law to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Those granted permission to own Service Dogs are required to further register their dogs as Service Dogs. Service dogs in NYC are issued a special cross-shaped brass tag to identify that the dog has been registered as a Service Dog by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“More specifically regarding the letter writer’s ADA change in law question, on March 15, 2011, the United States Department of Justice issued revised regulations regarding the Service Dog Law. Under the revised regulations, the ADA now defines “service animal” 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.”
“Additionally, the ADA’s revised regulations maintained the Department of Justice’s position that companion dogs and emotional support animals are not included in the definition of “service animal.” The difference between a “companion dog” and “emotional support animal” from a “psychiatric service animal” is the work or tasks that the animal performs including but not limited to guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, or calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack. The revised ruling states, “the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship… does not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”