November 30, 2012

Only certified service animals meet legal barometer


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Robert and Theresa Duell have a note from a doctor saying their dog provides her with aid, but whether that will allow them to keep the pet is yet to be determined.

According to the American with Disabilities Act, owners who claim their animals provide assistance with a disability must have them trained for specific purposes.

“The 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,” reads a section of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division website.

“If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA, regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government

“Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar.

“But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds, pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments, and assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.”

Mrs. Duell is hearing impaired, and when she is home alone, Tiny barks when people come to the door, alerting her. But the dog is not specifically trained for that function.

Robert Poulin, executive director of the North Country Center for Independence, said definitions of service animals exist for a reason.

“Otherwise, everyone would be claiming their dog was a service dog to get away with having them in places they can’t be,” he said.

Poulin acknowledged that many people have pets that help them in their daily lives that are not specifically trained service animals. He recommends anyone facing eviction because of such pets seek legal advice.

The Duells’ attorney, John Clute, said he will try to speak with Joseph Mucia, the attorney for landlord Phyllis Gregory of Abenaki Mobile Home Park, who wants to evict the Duells for having a dog. Clute will see if a remedy can be worked out.

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