Best Friends of People in Need: Service Animal Law in Utah - October 2017

Terry Jessop & Bitner Newsletter

Issue 46, October 2017

Author Kristan Higgins once said, "When an eighty-five pound mammal licks your tears away, then tries to sit on your lap, it's hard to feel sad." Ms. Higgins had a dog in mind. Sometimes the help and comfort which people receive from their pets is more than just a nice part of life; it can be life-saving. But not all pets are allowed in all public places. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about service animal laws in Utah.

Can Any Animal Be a Service Animal?

No. Only dogs qualify as service animals under both Utah and federal law. (Sorry, cat lovers.) Federal law also recognizes trained miniature horses as service animals in some circumstances.

How is "Service Animal" Defined?

Utah defines a service animal as any dog that "is trained, or is in training to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability...." (UCA § 62A-5b-102(3)(a).) The key is that the dog must be able to perform a certain task which is directly related to the person's disability, like helping a blind person with navigation, or pulling a wheelchair, or assisting during a seizure.

Do Service Animals Have to be Certified as Such?

No. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act expressly states that "covered entities," such as schools and businesses (including employers with more than 15 employees), may not require documentation that a dog has been licensed, trained or certified as a service animal as a condition of entry. The only license and registration required for a service animal is that which would otherwise apply according to local laws and ordinances if the dog was not a service animal.

Do Service Animals Have to Wear a Special Patch or Vest?

No. Although many service dogs and dogs-in-training have special vests or patches, they are not required by law.

Does a Service Animal Have to be Professionally Trained?

No. A person with a disability may train the dog himself. However, a dog-in-training does not qualify as a "service animal." As a general rule, the dog must be fully trained before being taken into a public place. Otherwise, a business or school has the right to exclude the dog.

What About Dogs That Provide Emotional Support?

A dog that only serves to provide as: (a) a crime deterrent; (b) emotional support; (c) well-being; (d) comfort; or (e) companionship does not qualify as a service animal. (UCA § 62A-5b-102(3)(b).) In other words, someone suffering from PTSD may not be entitled to have a dog present in a store or at school solely to provide comfort or companionship. However, if the dog is trained to help prevent or interrupt impulsive or destructive behaviors, then it qualifies as a service animal.

Can Service Animals Be Excluded from Public Places?

Generally, no. Utah law says, "A person with a disability has the right to be accompanied by a service animal, unless the service animal is a danger or nuisance to others as interpreted under the [ADA]." (UCA § 62A-5b-104.) There are no specific laws with respect to what a school or business should do if a student, customer or employee is allergic to the dog. However, as a general rule, the school or business should strive to accommodate both parties. For example, in the case of a school, the disabled student may be put in a different classroom than the student with the dog allergy. If the two students must share the same space, the dog may be excluded, but other accommodations have to me made so that the disabled student can participate. A service dog may be excluded if it is not housebroken, or if it is out of control.

The foregoing laws and principles apply to all public places, including hospitals, apartment buildings, hotels, restaurants, bars, and the like. If you have questions about this or any other property-related legal issue, give us a call. We can help.

© Terry Jessop & Bitner October 2017