The DOJ on Exotic Service Animals


I’ve addressed the issue of companion/comfort animals a few times in this blog; mostly when they happen to come up in the news. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Basically it’s an animal that serves as a companion, one that doesn’t perform a specific task, like turning on the lights or picking stuff up off the ground. In most cases, the person in question has some kind of a mental disability, and they use the animal for comfort and reassurance.

And a lot of times these animals are “non-standard” or “exotics”; like a ferret or a skunk or a full-sized horse (not a pony).

To be honest these stories aren’t hard to find in the news, which is proof of the growing problem. And in most cases I take the stand that animals like these make it more difficult for people with legitimate service animals. OK, that’s my opinion.

But what does the Department of Justice (DOJ) say on the issue of these exotic animals? Interestingly enough they’ve taken a pretty solid position in the proposed changes to the ADAAG (which are due to be released next month).

From the Federal Register:

“Some individuals with impairments-who would not be covered as qualified individuals with disabilities-are claiming that their animals are legitimate service animals, whether fraudulently or sincerely (albeit mistakenly), to gain access to the facilities of public entities. Another trend is the use of wild or exotic animals, many of which are untrained, as service animals. In order to clarify its position and avoid further misapplication of the ADA, the Department is proposing amendments to its regulation with regard to service animals.”

To that end they want to further limit the definition of a service animal and specifically state that a service animal cannot be a wild animal; including nonhuman primates born in captivity, reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including any breed of horse, pony, miniature horse, pig, and goat), ferrets, amphibians, and rodents.

For what it’s worth, the Department of Transportation has already outlawed exotic service animals in the most recent update of the Air Carrier Access Act, which states that airlines are not required to accommodate unusual service animals such as snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders.

In any case, the DOJ will finalize the issue next month with the updated ADAAG. I know the DOJ really doesn’t care about my opinion, but I think it’s high time for a clarification.

Stay tuned.