Service animals provide assistance to persons with disabilities in a number of ways. Last week, I wrote about the seeming confusion surrounding “non-standard” service animals, like a boa constrictor and a “seeing-eye horse.” The U.S. DOJ published proposed revisions in an attempt to clarify what animals do and do not qualify as service animals for purposes of the ADA. The proposed regulations relating to service animals (PDF) would exclude the boa constrictor (and other snakes and reptiles), as well as rabbits, farm animals, ferrets, and wild animals, including monkeys born in captivity. Explaining the perceived need for the changes, the DOJ stated:
At the time the regulation was promulgated, the Department believed that leaving the species selection up to the discretion of the individual with a disability was the best course of action. Due to the proliferation of animal types that have been used as ”service animals,” including wild animals, the Department believes that this area needs established parameters. Therefore, the Department is proposing to eliminate certain species from coverage under the ADA even if the other elements of the definition are satisfied.
The proposed regulations would also exclude animals that do not provide assistance but that provide emotional support, comfort or companionship. But, as reported by the ABA Journal, the regulations may have come a bit too late. The apparent popularity of these “non-standard service animals” is widespread.
After some 4,500 people flooded the DOJ with comments about the proposal, the Obama administration delayed implementation until its new civil rights team was on board. At this point, the revised ADA regulations are expected by the end of the year.
And, today, the ABA Journal offers an interesting update to the story. A federal judge has ruled that Richard, a monkey belonging to a Missouri woman, does not qualify as a service animal entitled to the benefits offered by ADA. The ADA does not require businesses to permit Richard access with his owner, says the court.
Richard’s owner claimed that Richard was the key to controlling her anxiety and agoraphobia and sued when the County Health Department and Wal-Mart (among others), refused to permit her to bring Richard along while she patronized local businesses.
In the Court’s opinion (below), it identified the benefits the plaintiff claimed to receive from the monkey’s companionship. The plaintiff claimed that Richard:
blocks people from getting too close in public places, “tolerat[es] … a position for hours” so Plaintiff can focus without anxiety, brings Plaintiff to full awareness by performing tasks such as holding her hand or touching her face, sits on her lap for “as long as it takes to relieve the emotional overload,” gets his toothbrush to encourage her to get out of bed, brings the remote control to the TV or the cell phone if Plaintiff is not “functioning normally,” turns her turn signal in the car when she reaches her street to inform her it’s time to turn, the monkey can open the car door allegedly as an “escape strategy,” uses a “direct look with an open mouth” or a “gentle push” to alert strangers to stay away, and hugs Plaintiff to bring her anxiety level down.
These allegations are helpful in understanding why the court rejected the plaintiff’s claim. As comforting as Richard’s assistance may be, none of the tasks he performs apparently help his owner perform a major life activity that she would not otherwise be able to perform but, as her doctor testified, primarily sits with Plaintiff and provides her with comfort.