It is common knowledge for most that animals, whether pets or companion animals, are considered personal property under the laws in the United States. However, animals still have some legal protections, including welfare laws governing the care and treatment of animals. The types of protections that are afforded depend on the status of that particular animal under the law. For this reason, the distinctions among animals in the legal system are important.
What is a “service animal?”
In contrast to a pet, or companion animal, a “service animal” is an animal designated to assist individuals with physical and mental disabilities. To receive this special designation, an animal must be trained and work for the benefit of a disabled person, who has a demonstrated medical need. For example, a service dog must be individually trained to perform a particular major life task with which a disabled individual needs assistance. All breeds and sizes of dogs can be trained as service animals.
Distinctions between service animals and pets
The status of a dog or cat as a “service animal” means that the animal is not treated as merely a pet under certain federal laws. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as well as the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, require housing providers and others to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled. This could include making exceptions to “no-pets” policies in order to allow service animals.
Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD)
A Psychiatric Service animal is a dog that is individually trained for people with emotional or psychiatric disabilities which are so severe that they substantially limit that individual’s ability to perform at least one major life task. The psychiatric service dog must be prescribed for a person by his/her licensed mental health professional, who states that the dog is needed to perform necessary tasks that the person is unable to perform for him/herself during certain events.
Emotional Support Animals (ESA)
An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that has been prescribed for a person by his/her licensed mental health professional, who states that the person is determined to be emotionally or psychiatrically disabled and that the presence of the animal is necessary for the disabled person’s mental health. The distinction between a PSD and an ESA is essentially the type of assistance needed from the animal. They are both service animals.
Protections provided by the Pet Theft Act
Along with the protections provided by federal disability laws, there is also special treatment provided to companion animals with regard to selling of domesticated animals to dealers. The purpose of the Pet Theft Act is to prohibit the use of stolen pets in research and to provide an opportunity for pets to be recovered or adopted before an animal is sold to a dealer. In fact, some state and local laws have imposed minimum holding requirements prior to the “disposal” of dogs or cats by shelters and veterinarians.
If you have questions regarding service or companion animals, or any other pet estate planning needs, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us at (310) 337-7696.