There is so much confusion surrounding service dogs, their requirements, federal regulations, who can have one and what they actually do.
This weekend, I am attending the Maryland Renaissance Festival, an event that I have attended nearly every year since I was 14. I was checking out their website yesterday and noticed their service dog policy:
An ADA approved vest/hanger wearing service animal is allowed.
I know that the festival has no intention of being discriminatory or has any interest in not complying with the law. However, if they were to turn away someone because their dog was not wearing a vest, that would be illegal.
There is no such thing as an ADA approved vest. In fact, there is no such thing as an ADA approved service animal.
There is no service animal certification and the many sites that try to sell you certifications are scams. These sites don’t even ask you if you are disabled. They are a great way for people who want to lie about being disabled to scam the system.
By asserting that only vest wearing service animals are allowed, the festival is perpetuating this behavior and contributing the misunderstanding of service animals and the disabled.
From the ADA website:
Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers.
There are only two requirements for a service animal: The service animal must be handled by a disabled person (with a disability that falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act) and the animal must be able to perform tasks that the person cannot manage on their own.
For instance, I am training Buttons to help create a buffer between myself and my environment because I have no peripheral vision in my left eye, and am constantly walking into things. I am also training him to help me judge depth and keep me aware of obstacles in my path. These are tasks which he performs for me.
You cannot have your pet with you simply because you don’t like being away from him or her.
Notice that I said that I am training Buttons. It is perfectly legal for a disabled person to train their own service animal. You can, and most people probably should, have your animal trained by a professional, but it is not required. Not all of these professionals provide certificates. Even if you have a certificate from a trainer, they do not hold any real value.
Some states have certification programs, but federal law supersedes these. Moreover, some states erroneously attempt to regulate the kinds of service animals allowed in establishments. If a business refused any type of service animal, they would be violating federal law, despite any state regulations.
This is unfortunate because it means that many state legislatures have no concept of the law. But that’s another topic.
It is also illegal to ask a person to present proof of their disability.
From the ADA website:
You may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.
It is true that many people take advantage of this law. It does allow them to make false claims about their pets. However, lying about having a disability and your right to a service animal is fraud. It is a crime. You could face a fine or even jail-time.
I have no intention of taking Buttons to the Renaissance Festival. He needs an extensive amount of training before he would be ready for a situation like that. But their regulations are still concerning to me. I train Buttons in a regular harness. Many other disabled individuals do not put service animal vests on their dogs. I worry about such a person attending this festival and being turned away.