Can cats be considered “service animals?”
Service animals can make a real difference in the lives of people with disabilities. They have certain skills that allow them to perform certain tasks that help keep their handlers safe and healthy. We’ve all heard about service dogs, but are there other animals that can be considered service animals? Specifically, can cats be service animals?
Read on to learn more about service animals.
What is a Service Animal?
A service animal is a pet that is individually trained to perform particular tasks for an individual with disabilities, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) . A dog qualifies to be a service animal when the owner has a documented disability and the dog is specially trained to assist the owner with something directly related to their disability.
Other animal species, with the exception of some miniature horses, whether domestic or wild, trained or untrained, do not qualify as service animals. Simply put, only dogs and miniature horses are considered service animals. What’s more, therapy dogs or emotional support dogs are not considered service animals in the eyes of the law.
So, Can Cats Be Service Animals?
The short answer is no. The ADA does not recognize cats in its definition of service animals. Only dogs (and some miniature horses) can be trained to assist with certain tasks as service animals.
While cats can be taught to do tricks and walk on leashes, they cannot be taught to pull wheelchairs, alert people who are deaf, guide the blind, and more. There’s no such thing as a legal service cat.
Service Dog Tasks and Work
There are different types of service dogs, and some even perform multiple tasks. These dogs go through rigorous training before they are teamed up with a handler.
Examples of work or tasks performed by service animals include:
- Alerting individuals who are deaf to the presence of sounds or people
- Providing navigation assistance to people who are deaf or have low vision
- Providing rescue work or non-violent protection
- Providing physical support to individuals with mobility disabilities
- Retrieving items such as mobile phones or medicine
- Opening and closing doors, cabinets, and drawers
- Sensing and alerting to seizures or diabetes issues
- Interrupting or preventing impulsive or destructive behaviors by people with neurological and psychiatric disabilities
- Assessing safety and guiding the owner away from stressful situations
When and Where Service Animals Are Allowed
Under the ADA, a service dog should be allowed access to all areas of public facilities and private businesses where the public is allowed.
The service dog must be well-behaved, socialized, and under control at all times. Generally, they should be harnessed or leashed, unless doing so gets in the dog’s way of performing their duties. In such cases, the dog must still be under the owner’s control through hand signals, voice commands, or other effective means.
A private business or public entity may ask a handler to remove a service animal if the animal is out of control and the handler isn’t able to control the dog.
The ADA also notes that their definition of a service dog doesn’t have an impact on the definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act or the definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act.
To determine if a dog is indeed a service animal, a private business or a public entity can only ask two questions:
- Is the dog required to assist with a disability?
- What tasks has the dog been trained to perform?
These questions may not be posed if the need for the service dog is obvious, for example, in the case of a dog guiding a person who is blind. A disabled person cannot be asked questions about the nature or extent of their disability. Documentation or an identifying vest is not required.
Cats Can’t Be Service Animals, But They Can Be Emotional Support Animals
An emotional support animal (ESA) is any type of animal that is there to positively affect a symptom of a person’s mental health disability. An ESA can be incredibly impactful in improving one’s mental health and well-being.
An emotional support animal doesn’t have to be specifically trained to help its owner – they simply need to help their owners maintain mental and emotional stability by virtue of their companionship. ESAs can live with their owners in places with a “no pet” policy and are exempt from pet deposits.
Cats can make excellent emotional support animals. They are friendly, have a calm demeanor, and love to be close to humans. The companionship of a cat can help with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and many other mental conditions.
For a cat to be registered as an emotional support animal, it must be:
- Prescribed by a licensed therapist or another mental health professional
- Housebroken and not a danger or nuisance to others
- Under the owner’s control at all times
Your Florida Service Animal Attorney
Disabled individuals and their service dogs face unfair and illegal discrimination every day in Florida. Unfair treatment can have profound emotional and physical consequences for the owner.
If you believe you were discriminated against because of your service animal, contact the service animal attorneys at The Goodwin Firm. It’s our mission to fight for your rights, hold establishments accountable, and recover full compensation for your hardship.
Call today for a legal consultation.