What is the difference between service animals and assistance animals?

By Desiree Brougher | Jan. 11, 2019 | 2 min. read

The topic of service and assistance animals causes a number of headaches for landlords and property managers, not because of the need for animals, but due to the lack of specific guidance on how to handle the situation. Act 118 of 2018, known as the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act and which went into effect on Dec. 23, alleviates some of those concerns.

A frequently-asked question is “what is an assistance animal, and is it the same as a service animal?” The act categorizes support animals and provides two separate definitions. A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform a task for a person with a disability. The common example is that of a “seeing eye dog,” who accompanies a sightless individual for that person’s safety. An assistance animal is any animal except a service animal that provides disability-related support, including emotional support. These can be cats who provide anxiety relief or a teacup pig that helps alleviate depression.

Another concern is the ease with which one can obtain “official” documentation for a support animal and what seems like a lack of accountability for the people who attempt to mislead landlords and property managers. The act now makes it a criminal offense to misrepresent one’s entitlement to an assistance or a support animal. This misrepresentation can take the form of either faking a disability (and hence the need for an animal), using a special harness or collar to lead another to believe that an animal is a support animal or using false information to obtain documentation. There are now also specific criteria for the documentation which will make it more difficult for people to simply find a form online.

A final concern is the type of animals that may be considered an assistance animal, and what potential harm may come to other tenants as a result. The act answers that question by providing landlords with immunity from liability for injuries caused by an assistance or service animal that is permitted on the property as a reasonable accommodation.

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