A Fair Housing Defense Blog reader sent me a question related to my recent entry on service animals.  Specifically, my reader wanted to know how to distinguish a service animal from a pet.  There are a couple of issues involved with this question – so I will try to hit the high points.  First, service (or companion) animals perform important functions for their owners.  Some service animals are easy to spot – such as the dog that assists an individual with a vision impairment.   I have found it useful to think of service animals as similar to a wheelchair – as they are needed to assist a disabled individual with physical or emotional needs.

In our apartment management arena, there is an important distinction between service animals and pets as a service animal is exempt from extra pet rent and/or related pet fees.  The problem I see (also noted by my reader) is that some individuals wish to avoid paying pet rent/fees and simply claim their dog is not a pet, but is a service or companion animal.  Notwithstanding the disappointing and less than ethical behavior of these people, it truly does a disservice to the animals who assist individuals with real needs.  Another reason some people attempt to classify their pet as a service animal is that service animals are exempt from size and/or breed prohibitions.

At the outset, while many service animals wear a special vest or collar, there is no requirement that the animal have any such identification.   As such, there are many times when management is absolutely within our rights to seek confirmation from a medical/health care professional that the animal is not a pet.  And yes, a companion animal can be verified by a medical/health care professional.  Also, while formal animal training can be useful and there are many good trainers out there, the DOJ/HUD guidance on this point is clear that there is no requirement in the law mandating that a service or companion animal be specially trained.

Hope that helps.

Just A Thought.