Service dogs are highly trained and almost never bite. They are technically considered medical devices and are different from Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) in that they receive more specialized training and enjoy more protections under federal law. That said, there is still an extremely small risk that a service dog will bite for the simple fact that it is a dog.
If you’re ever unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a service dog bite, there are certain steps you should take to ensure that you’re protected legally. Below, we go over what the law says about service dogs, how to prevent a bite, and what to do if you’re the victim of an attack.
Service Dogs & the Law
A service dog is any dog that has been trained to perform tasks or perform work to help an individual with a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a far-reaching definition of disability, explaining the meaning as impairment of a physical or mental nature that significantly impacts or limits one or more life pursuits. Service dogs must be specially trained to perform specific tasks for disabled individuals.
Assistance animals perform specific tasks or duties for their disabled handlers such as opening doors, retrieving items, providing balance assistance, alerting to sounds, and acting as a guide during travel. On the contrary, emotional support animals only provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and help with anxiety and depression. Service dogs are not considered pets under the law and therefore have certain rights and protections that other animals, even ESAs, do not have.
What the law says about service dogs
ADA laws prohibit the discrimination of people with disabilities in all areas of living, including employment, education, transportation, and any place that is open to the general public. The ADA also gives individuals with disabilities the right to be accompanied by a service dog in all areas of public life where people are normally allowed to go without a pet. This includes restaurants, hotels, stores, buses, taxis, airplanes, government buildings, and more.
Service dogs must be allowed access to all areas of a business open to the public even if that business has a “no pets” policy. Businesses may ask an individual with a disability if the animal is a service animal required because of the disability but cannot ask about the nature of the person’s disability. Individuals with disabilities cannot be charged extra fees or larger deposits because they need to bring their service animal into a business unless those extra charges apply equally to all customers, whether or not a pet is accompanying them.
How To Respond To a Service Dog Bite
You can protect yourself from the unlikely circumstances of being bitten by a service dog by leaving service dogs alone when you see them in public, especially if they are wearing a “working” sign. Respect the space of the dog and the owner, and remember that the dog is not there for companionship. Many dogs, like cardiac and diabetic alert dogs, are there to constantly monitor their owner at all times and provide an alert or even go get help in the event of a medical emergency.
If you’ve been bitten by a service dog, the first thing you should do is collect evidence and contact the police. This includes getting the names and contact information of any witnesses, taking photos of your injuries, and keeping any medical records related to the incident. It’s also important to get the name and contact information of the dog’s owner.
If you decide to take legal action against the dog’s owner, you’ll need to file a police report. This will provide law enforcement with a formal record of the incident, which can be helpful if you decide to pursue criminal or civil charges against the owner.
After you’ve collected evidence and filed a police report, it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney about your legal options. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and determine whether you have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit against the dog’s owner.
How Mazow | McCullough, PC Can Help
Unfortunately, there are many owners that fake having a certified service dog so they can take their pet to the store or on a plane or other public venue. These dogs aren’t trained and are highly likely to bite, especially in these stressful situations. If you’ve been bitten by an imposter service dog, or a legitimate one, our law firm can help.
Call our office today for more information at (978) 744-8000 or toll-free at (855) 693-9084. Serving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of New Jersey.