Ordinarily, Pennsylvania law views pets merely as property, so that your legal rights are limited to property rights. But you can get additional rights at home, at work, in places of business, and when traveling if you designate your pet a therapy or disability service animal, which usually only requires a note from a therapist or doctor, and sometimes training.¹ If someone interferes with these special animal rights, they can be subject to more sophisticated civil and criminal claims. In this post, I’ll explain how my firm can help your pet become more than property in the eyes of the law.
Most housing providers, like landlords, condominium associations, and the government, may not interfere with your service animal, which includes emotional support animals such as dogs who alleviate depression and anxiety.² Landlords may not charge a pet fee for service animals, no matter what it says in your lease.³ Employers must reasonably accommodate service animals, which may include allowing them at work.⁴ On pain of a summary criminal offense, public accommodations, such as restaurants, movie theaters, and hotels, must be accessible to service animals, and they may not charge an additional fee.⁵ You have the right to travel with your service animal, including on airplanes.⁶ Uber recently settled a lawsuit in which a blind person was refused transportation because of a service dog.⁷ As part of the settlement, Uber updated its service animal policy, and requires drivers to acknowledge their legal obligations related to accepting service animals on trips.⁸
Service animals are not limited to dogs.⁹ Mini-horses, which live about twice as long as dogs and therefore require less frequent training, can be service animals.¹⁰ The steps required to certify your pet as a service animal depend on the laws under which you seek protection. The most stringent laws impose species limitations, require particularized training and a note from a doctor, and exclude emotional support or comfort animals.¹¹ The least stringent laws merely require evidence of a disability-related need for the animal and do not impose species restrictions.¹²
This post is not exhaustive, and there are always exceptions. Contact my law firm for help.
¹ For the sake of expediency, I will use the term service animal interchangeably with comfort, emotional support, therapy, companion, guide, and assistance animal, even though these terms have distinct legal meanings and requirements.
² See the Fair Housing Act at 42 U.S.C.A. § 3604(f) (handicaps require reasonable accommodations) ; 42 U.S.C.A. § 3602(h) (a handicap is a mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity) ; 24 C.F.R. § 100.201 (emotional illness is a mental impairment) ; HUD Notice Pet Ownership for the Elderly and People With Disabilities 73 FR 63834-01 (October 27, 2008) (a psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional may document that an emotional support animal alleviates a symptom or effect of a disability for the purposes of the FHA) ; Janush v. Charities Housing Development Corp., N.D.Cal.2000, 169 F.Supp.2d 1133 (disabled tenant's alleged need for two birds and two cats to act as service animals, providing tenant with companionship necessary to her mental health, supported her claim that landlord's eviction of tenant for violation of no pets policy violated the FHA). See also The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act at 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 952 (prohibiting housing discrimination against individuals using guide or support animals because of blindness, deafness or a physical handicap).
³ 24 C.F.R. § 100.60(4) (prohibiting application fees because of a handicap).
⁴ See Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act (‘ADA’) at 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 12112 (requiring reasonable accommodation of disabilities in employment, including physical and mental limitations). See also 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 952 (prohibiting employment discrimination against individuals using guide or support animals because of blindness, deafness or a physical handicap).
⁵ See ADA Title III at 42 U.S.C.A. § 12182 (prohibiting disability discrimination in public accommodation) ; 28 C.F.R. § 36.302c1 (public accommodations must modify policies, practices, and procedures to permit the disabled to use service animals) ; 28 C.F.R. § 36.302c8 (prohibiting additional fees for people with service animals in public accommodations) ; 18 Pa.C.S. § 7325 (it is a summary offense for a public accommodation to discriminate against animals certified by a recognized authority to assist the physically disabled). See also 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 952 (prohibiting public accommodation discrimination against individuals using guide or support animals because of blindness, deafness or a physical handicap). But see 28 C.F.R. § 36.104 (limiting service animals under ADA Title III to dogs and excluding animals that provide emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship).
⁶ See, e.g. the Air Carrier Access Act (‘ACAA’) at 49 U.S.C.A. § 41705 (prohibiting air carrier discrimination against the physically or mentally impaired) ; 68 Fed. Reg. 24875 (clarifying that emotional support animals are protected under the ACAA) ; 14 C.F.R. Pt. 382.
⁷ N.F.B.C. et al. v. Uber Technologies, Inc. 103 F.Supp.3d 1073 (N.D. Cal. 2015).
⁸ Settlement with the National Federation of the Blind. Uber.com, 9 Nov. 2017, www.uber.com/newsroom/nfb-settlement/.
⁹ But see dog 28 C.F.R. § 36.104 (limiting service animals to dogs for the purposes of disability discrimination by public accommodations under Title III of the ADA).
¹⁰ 28 C.F.R. § 35.136 (requiring state and local government services to permit the use of mini-horses as service animals).
¹¹ See e.g. 28 C.F.R. § 36.104 (excluding species other than dogs for the purposes of re public accommodation discrimination against people with service animals under Title III of the ADA).
¹² See e.g. HUD Notice Pet Ownership for the Elderly and People With Disabilities 73 FR 63834-01 (October 27, 2008) (for the purposes of the FHA, the disabled may request a reasonable accommodation for any assistance or emotional support animal, and may be required to provide evidence of a disability-related need).