Kudos to NOVA’s Office of Disability Services for sponsoring the first Service Animals Awareness Fair the week of October 2. The Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Woodbridge and Medical Education campuses welcomed dogs (accompanied by their owners) from Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers (SDWR), Sit Means Sit of Northern Virginia and Caring Angels Therapy Dogs. Office of Disability Services plans on having this event annually.
With increasing frequency, service animals are present in classrooms, in the cafeteria and elsewhere on campuses. Faculty, staff members and students have asked how to handle the presence of a service animal on campus. People often ask “Can we pet them?,” “Talk to them?,” “Feed them treats?,” and “What’s the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal?”
What is a service animal?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are dogs that have received specialized training to work or perform major life tasks to assist an individual with a disability. The tasks performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. This means that the dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to serve the needs of an individual with a disability. Examples are:
- A dog trained to assist a person who is blind.
- A dog trained to detect when a diabetic’s blood sugar reaches low levels and alerts his owner to remind him/her of taking the proper medication.
- A dog trained to detect when a person with epilepsy is about to have a seizure, in this case, the dog directs the person to a safe place and remains with his/her owner during the seizure.
- A dog trained to alert a person with hearing impairments to sounds.
- A dog trained to pull wheelchairs or pull and pick up things for individuals using wheelchairs.
- A dog trained to help people who have mobility impairments with balance.
What is not a service animal?
Emotional support animals do not perform a specific task and are not covered by ADA. ADA makes a clear distinction between psychiatric service animals, therapy support and emotional support animals. The key is they must be trained to perform a specific task. An example of these cases is when a person is suffering a severe anxiety attack, the animal in this case, may be trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to occur and alert his owner to take medication to avoid the attack or lessen its impact. If the animal only provides comfort to its owner, it is not considered a service animal, and therefore, it is not covered under the ADA.
Can we pet them?
No! Service animals are working; they have been trained for a specific purpose and need to focus on their person. Petting them and talking to them distracts them from their very important job.
For more information, please contact: