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The Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD) regularly responds to service animal related questions from the public. So, we are pleased to share a new update with you. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) published new, comprehensive guidance entitled “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Service Animals and the ADA” on July 13, 2015. The FAQ addresses the application of the law in areas that were previously unclear and is unique in that it is the first guidance to discuss specific questions asked by the public about service animals. Here are some highlights that our staff consider particularly noteworthy.

The new guidance clarifies that gyms, fitness centers, hotels, or municipalities that have swimming pools are not required to allow a service animal in the pool with its handler. Still, service animals must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where the public is allowed to go.

The FAQ describes scenarios in which a service dog’s presence might fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program provided to the public. The document states that while the presence of a service animal will not result in a fundamental alteration in most settings, there are exceptions, such as areas of a zoo where a service animal’s presence would be disruptive to the animals on display.

A service dog guides an individual with a white cane.

Service animals have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.

The guidance confirms that municipal requirements that all dogs be vaccinated, registered and or licensed do apply to service animals. It is important to note that though a municipality may require a vaccination, registration or license, this does not mean that a place of public accommodation (generally, any entity open to the public) can ask for proof of such, nor can they exclude the animal for lacking this documentation.

The FAQ also discusses situations in which a patient who uses a service animal is unable to care for or supervise their animal during a hospital admission. In most cases, if the patient is not able to care for the service animal, the patient has the right to make arrangements for a family member or friend to come to the hospital to provide these services, as to avoid being separated from the service animal. If this is not an option, the hospital may place the service animal in a shelter until the patient is released, or make other appropriate arrangements.

Generally, Massachusetts’ service animal statutes are analogous to the federal law with a few exceptions.  For instance, the FAQ states that service animals in training are not considered service animals under the ADA. However, in Massachusetts, service animals in training are permitted to go wherever the public is allowed to go accompanied by a handler.

Please continue to follow our blog for upcoming posts on how service animal laws apply in various situations. If you have service animal questions you’d like to see addressed in a future blog, we invite you to share your ideas in the comments section.

Written by Evan C. Bjorklund, MOD Staff Attorney, Allan Motenko and Rita DiNunzio

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