Take your dog anywhere? Service dogs and the law in Georgia

Those Internet ads promising "instant registration and documentation for your assistance dog" or for the "beloved animals" who are a "key part of your life" make it seem so easy. They can leave anyone thinking, "Hey, my dog should get to go to the movies and the bookstore with me, too!"

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Even if you know in your heart that your dog is just a pet, not a service or therapy animal, it still might seem appealing to bend the rules. After all, service dogs get federal protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act to go many places ordinary pups aren't allowed. And other regulations for therapy and emotional support animals could allow you to have a pet in housing where pets aren't generally permitted, or let your pet fly with you in the cabin (without paying any extra fees).

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But there are some laws in Georgia to be aware of if you want to claim an animal is a service dog. Yes, even if you've already ordered that handsome vest and "working dog" identification card, you should be aware of the way service dog acceptance works in the Peach State.

The ADA sets the standard

The federal definition of service dogs is quite specific: "Dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities," according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. "Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."

Federal protections given to such trained, non-pet service dogs include being allowed to accompany owners into businesses, non-profits, state and local government facilities and hospitals. The service animals must be leashed and cannot compromise a sterile environment. Citing allergies or being scared of dogs does not compromise these rights.

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An interesting - and a bit confusing - aspect of the law is that anyone encountering an alleged service animal is only allowed to make "limited inquiries" as to what service the animal is providing. "Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person's disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task," according to the ADA. Dogs can only be asked to leave premises if they're not housebroken or if they're utterly out of control.

Other federal laws can muddy the water a bit. "The Fair Housing Act is looser. A 1988 amendment to that law forces landlords to provide 'reasonable accommodations' for what the Department of Housing and Urban Development calls 'assistance animals,'" noted Considerable. "Likewise, the Air Carrier Access Act allows for animals who provide 'emotional support' and permits many animal options other than dogs, according to the Department of Transportation, although airlines can reject snakes, rodents and spiders."

What Georgia laws cover

While the ADA permits states to offer more expansive regulations for service dogs, Georgia hews pretty closely to the federal standards. Georgia defines an assitance dog as one that has "been trained by a licensed or certified person, organization, or agency to perform physical tasks for a physically challenged person. Assistance dogs include guide or leader dogs that guide individuals who are legally blind; hearing dogs that alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to specific sounds; and service dogs for individuals with disabilities other than blindness or deafness, which are trained to perform a variety of physical tasks, including, but not limited to, pulling a wheelchair, lending balance support, picking up dropped objects, or providing assistance in a medical crisis."

Guide dogs must also be identified as "having been trained by a school for seeing eye, hearing, service, or guide dogs." So if you want to have a service dog in Georgia, you'll be running a risk if you go the Internet route. Your dog may have a vest, but even with the limits of the ADA, you're probably not going to pass as someone with a physical disability unless you actually have one.

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