Having a service animal can significantly improve the quality of life for people with disabilities as they provide vital assistance. Those with disabilities are entitled to bring their service dog in Virgina to almost all public places. Service dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers in almost all areas where the general public is allowed, except for certain situations such as sterile hospital environments where their presence could pose a risk to public health and safety. It is important to note that any breed can become a service dog at any age and no breed is inherently superior to others.
Definition of a Service Dog in Virginia
A service animal is defined in the Americans with disabilities Act (ADA) as a dog that is individually trained to do work, or perform tasks for a person with a disability. “Work” or “tasks” means to take a specific action when required to assist its handler with their disability in question Under the ADA, public places may not discriminate against people with disabilities who utilize service dogs to assist them.
There are a variety of locations that can be classified as places of public accommodation. These include hotels, restaurants, bars, cinemas, sports arenas, grocery stores, and other retail shops. Apart from these, hospitals, healthcare provider offices, laundromats, gas stations, banks, public transportation stations, museums, libraries, private schools, and facilities for recreation or exercise can also be considered public accommodations. In essence, any facility or establishment that is open to the public falls under this category and must adhere to certain legal requirements for accessibility and non-discrimination to ensure that all individuals can access their services or products.
The Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health has stated that it is inappropriate to exclude a service animal from hospital areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.
Registering a Service Dog in Virginia
Even though there is no mandatory registration for a service dog in Virginia, some handlers choose to carry identification to avoid disputes and confrontations with individuals who may question the use of their service dog in Virginia. Any dog that meets the definition of a service dog in Virginia, outlined by the ADA is considered to be a legitimate service dog. This means that a dog that has undergone training to assist a person with a disability can be acknowledged as a service dog in Virginia.
The process to register is straightforward, just follow these three steps:
- Identify the right service dog for your disability
- Ensure proper training
- Register and certify your service dog
Step 1: Identify the Right Service Dog for Your Disability
Although any dog breed can serve as a service dog in Virginia, certain breeds possess unique traits and instincts that make them better suited for particular tasks. Examples of tasks that a service animal may perform include:
- assisting a person with low vision or blindness with navigation and other duties
- alerting a deaf or hard-of-hearing individual to sounds or people
- providing non-violent protection or rescue work
- pulling a wheelchair
- helping someone during a seizure
- alerting an individual to allergens
- retrieving medicine or the telephone
- providing physical support and stability for those with mobility disabilities
- preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors for individuals with psychiatric or neurological disabilities.
Step 2: Ensure Proper Training for Service Dog Certification
Training and temperament are critical markers of a service dog. Formal training certifications are not required, so this aspect of the process is self-regulated by the community. You can receive professional training or self-train your service dog but it is important to understand that professional training is not requirement to register a service dog.
Step 3: Register and Certify Your Service Dog in Virginia
There is no government-mandated registry for service dogs in the United States or Virginia and possessing a service dog certificate is not obligatory or required by law. Any registry claiming to be government-affiliated is likely misleading. By law, business owners and government officials are not authorized to demand evidence of registration, training, or licensing as a prerequisite for entry into public establishments.
The only two questions that are permissible for you to be asked about your service dog are:
- Is the animal required because of a disability?
- What task has the animal been trained to perform?
If the task your dog is trained to perform is extremely obvious, then these questions may not be required to be ask.
Once you confirm the above, businesses must make reasonable accommodations. Unfortunately, many businesses that interact with the public are unfamiliar with the laws surrounding service animals and insist on receiving physical proof of service dog registration.
As a matter of convenience and to ensure proper access as intended by the ADA, many service dog handlers choose to voluntarily register their dogs as service dogs and carry a digital ID card and/or certificate with them. This can prevent uncomfortable situations or confusion when interacting with staff at public establishments.
Service dogs should also always be easily identifiable as such by the use physical markers such as bandanas or collars so that the public can quickly confirm service dog status without having to interact directly with a handler
Where Is My Service Dog In Virginia Permitted?
State and Federal laws states that business are required to allow a service dog in Virginia in the same areas that the general public is permitted. The only exceptions to this are situations where there is a risk to public health that outweighs the individual benefits received from the service dog. The state of Virginia also provides that service dogs in training are provided with the same access rights as service dogs, however, service dogs in training must wear a physical marker identifying it as a service dog in training.
Although a person with a service or guide dog cannot be required to pay extra for having a service or guide dog on the premises, they can be held liable for any damage that the dog causes to the premises.
A place of public accommodation can only exclude a service animal if the animal is not under control or if it is not housebroken, and the handler does not take appropriate measures to address the situation. If the exclusion is necessary for one of these reasons, the public place must provide the person with a disability an opportunity to receive its services, goods, and accommodations without requiring the service animal to be present on the premises.
Emotional Support Animal Certification in Virginia
Emotional Support Animals are not considered to be Service Animals in Virginia. However, ESAs are included under the Fair Housing Act’s definition of assistance animals, and accordingly may permitted to live in buildings where landlords do not otherwise allow pets for no additional fees. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords may not discriminate against tenants with disabilities. As such, landlords cannot refuse a tenant because they have a service animal or ESA
If someone is eligible for an Emotional Support Animal in Virginia, they may be entitled to reasonable accommodations, such as being exempt from a “no pets” policy or size and weight restrictions. Nonetheless, a housing provider may set practical requirements on approvals for these animals, such as ensuring that they are supervised while on the premises or that the occupant or someone else is responsible for cleaning up after them.
Register now to receive your uniquely identifiable Service Dog Identification and Certification.