Animals can add a lot to our lives, and service animals are some of the best examples of that. These specially-trained furry friends of ours do work and perform specific tasks for their physically, mentally, or psychologically-disabled owners, all so that they can live richer and more functional lives.
Thankfully, the federal government has legal protections in place to ensure that disabled people can enjoy their service animals at home, in public, and even at work.
But what about the states? They, too, have their own laws that uphold disabled people’s rights to their service animals both at home and in public, and Pennsylvania is no exception. We’re here to explore federal and state laws in detail so that disabled Pennsylvanians can better understand how they work and how they can exercise their rights under them.
We’ll also look at how these federal and state laws intertwine and differ from each other in the context of service animals, so read on to learn more.
What Is a Service Animal Anyway?
The federal and Pennsylvania state definitions of service animals differ slightly, and it’s important to know the differences for the purpose of this article.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.”
These work and tasks include guiding blind people, alerting deaf people, reminding mentally or psychologically-impaired people to take their medication, alerting and protecting people during a seizure, calming a person diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety or panic attack, or other similar duties. The work or tasks a service animal performs must be directly related to their owner’s disability.
What Animals Can Be Considered Service Animals?
The ADA changed their definition in 2011 to include only dogs, as recognized under Titles II (state and local government services) and III (public accommodations and commercial facilities). Titles II and III of the ADA permit service animals to accompany their owners in all areas where the general public is allowed to go.
What Is Pennsylvania’s Definition of a Service Animal?
The state of Pennsylvania’s definition of a service animal is nearly identical to the ADA’s definition: “Any dog which has been or is in the process of being trained as a guide dog, signal dog or has been trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items.”
What Protections Are Offered to Those With Service Animals?
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) protects disabled owners of service animals from discrimination when using public accommodations or facilities. In fact, such discrimination will result in a misdemeanor charge. Moreover, these protections are also in place for people suffering from mental, intellectual, or psychological impairments whose service animals do work or perform tasks related to their disabilities.
Are Emotional Support Animals Protected as Well?
In a similar vein, emotional support animals enjoy these state protections as well, so long as the disabled owner is able to verify his or her disability and the need for their emotional support animal as it pertains to ameliorating their psychological condition.
You can learn more about Pennsylvania’s emotional support animal laws here.
Public Accommodations Laws for Disabled Pennsylvanians
Under the PHRA, public accommodations are defined as any place that offers accommodations, facilities, or advantages to the public. Naturally, this includes a whole range of establishments, like hair salons, swimming pools, and libraries, to name a few.
The ADA’s definition of public accommodations, however, is much broader, including places like:
- Commercial and service establishments
- Rental establishments
- Public transportation and depots, terminals, and stations
- Recreational and exercise facilities, including zoos, parks, bowling alleys, and gyms
- Restaurants and other establishments that serve food or beverages
- Hotels and other lodging establishments
- Educational institutions
- Social service centers
- Places of exhibit and entertainment, including sports stadiums and theaters
- Establishments where items and collected and displayed publicly, including libraries and museums
- Any place designated for public gatherings, including convention centers and auditoriums
Between the PHRA and the ADA, Pennsylvanians with disabilities can take their service animal with them just about anywhere in public. But how do these rights factor into the places where they work?
Employment Laws for Disabled Pennsylvanians
Employment is one area where federal and Pennsylvania state law overlap pretty heavily, as they both offer the same protections and penalize employers who do not adhere to the regulations in similar ways. In this instance, the differences here are negligible; therefore, they aren’t worth mentioning.
Additionally, it makes sense that the ADA provides protections for disabled people that allow them to bring their service animals to work. Title I of the ADA requires employers to “provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, unless to do so would cause undue hardship.”
Can a Workplace Refuse a Service Animal Request?
This means that the only time employers may refuse to make these accommodations is if they place a significant strain–be it financial or otherwise–on business operations. An example of this is if the requested accommodations financially burden the business to a marked degree. Employers, then, are at liberty to implement different, yet equally effective, accommodations if it places less of a strain on them and their business.
Like the ADA, the PHRA prohibits employers from discriminating against disabled people on the basis of their disability status, nor can they prevent them from using their guide or service animal at work. The only exception to this is in rare cases when the service animal would place undue hardship on daily business operations.
What Is Involved in Requesting a Service Animal at Work?
Disabled owners of service animals may submit an oral or written request to their employers if they wish to bring their service animal to work with them.
This request must be corroborated by their doctor or attending medical professional’s written verification of their disability, which should explain the disabled person’s disability in detail and how the service animal does work or performs specific tasks or duties to help them perform their job.
Similarly, employers must be flexible enough to let their disabled employees tend to their service animal while on the job. This could look like letting them periodically feed their service animal or take it outside to relieve itself throughout the day.
Housing Laws for Disabled Pennsylvanians
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is similar to the ADA in that it prevents landlords from discriminating against disabled people when they are buying, selling, renting, leasing, or subletting one of their properties.
These protections cover disabled people’s right to have their service animal live with them, too, and any standard animal housing fees will be waived in the case of service animals. However, disabled people may be held liable if their service animal damages the property or injures another person on the premises.
Unsurprisingly, Pennsylvania’s Administrative Code provides similar protections. Those with guide dogs or other service animals as defined by Pennsylvania law are protected from discrimination on the basis of their disability status.
How Do Psychiatric Service Animals Fit Into All of This?
Since both the ADA and Pennsylvania state law’s definitions of service animals only mention the physically disabled, you might be wondering whether those with mental, intellectual, or psychiatric impairments are left out in the dust. Fortunately, these disabled individuals do enjoy the same protections, even if they’re outlined in a more roundabout way.
In Pennsylvania, service animals that do work or perform tasks or duties related to their owners’ mental, intellectual, or psychiatric impairments are called “assistance animals.” For example, rights outlined in the FHA extend to these assistance animals, meaning disabled Pennsylvanians with mental, intellectual, or psychiatric assistance animals can still enjoy all the same housing rights as their physically disabled counterparts.
The ADA also protects these assistance animals in the context of employment, even though they’re neither specifically mentioned by the ADA nor in the state of Pennsylvania’s official definition of a service animal. Similarly, assistance animals enjoy the same protections in the context of public accommodations.
How Do I Register My Service Animal?
To register your service animal on our website, click here. For just under $80, you’ll receive:
- Lifetime registration for your service animal in the United States’ largest service animal database
- A Service Animal Registration Photo ID Card
- A Registration Certificate for your service animal
- Digital copies of your Registration Certificate, immediately available for download
- The option to order a vest for your service animal
- Full, 24/7 access to our legal team and support staff
What’s more, you’ll also receive a card explaining service animal laws and your rights that you may present in response to any inquiries regarding the presence of your service animal. Keep in mind, though, that registering your service animal on USAA will not grant you any rights in addition to the ones provided by the ADA and Pennsylvania state law.
A Final Word on Our Special Four-Legged Friends
Service animals can exponentially improve the quality of a disabled person’s life, and thankfully there are plenty of federal and state laws in place to ensure that. Similarly, the state of Pennsylvania works hard to see that its disabled residents can fully exercise their rights to have their service animal with them at home, on the job, and out in public.