Can I bring my service dog to court?

In recent years, the use of service dogs has rapidly expanded across Virginia. Whereas in the past service dogs were commonly thought of as German Shepherds guiding the blind or visually-impaired, now service dogs include a variety of breeds assisting and performing tasks for people with all manner of disabilities. For example, hearing dogs help the hard-of-hearing interpret sounds; mobility dogs provide stability for those who cannot ambulate without assistance; medical alert dogs signal the onset of a medical issue such as a seizure or low blood sugar; and psychiatric service dogs assist individuals with disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Service dogs are working animals that are specially trained to perform tasks and/or assist people with disabilities. (Crjs452 / CC BY-SA)

Service Animals in Courthouses

With the increased prevalence of service dogs come questions about the accessibility of various public spaces.  Courthouses in many cities and counties in Virginia typically have rigorous security screenings and numerous restrictions regarding what can and cannot be brought inside.  Clients whose cases have involved appearances in court, such as trials or settlement hearings, often wonder whether they will be allowed to bring their service dogs with them into the courtroom.

Fortunately, the law has responded to accommodate the need for disabled persons to bring their service dogs to public places, including state and federal courthouses, which otherwise would not permit animals.  Specifically, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that no qualified individual with a disability may be excluded from participation in, or be denied benefits or services by, a public entity by reason of such disability.

Further, federal regulations implementing the ADA provide that public entities must permit the use of service animals by individuals with disabilities, and that individuals with disabilities are permitted to be accompanied by their service animals wherever public entities’ allow members of the public to go.

Therefore, our clients can be confident that they will be able to bring their qualified service animals into court to assist them during proceedings in connection with their case.  It is important to draw the distinction, however, between qualified service dogs which are covered by the ADA, and emotional support, therapy or comfort dogs, which are not covered by the ADA.

Do Emotional Support Animals Qualify?

In order to qualify under the ADA, a service dog must be specially trained to do work or perform specific tasks for a person with a disability.  The line between covered and non-covered animals can at times be a difficult one to draw.  For example, a service dog that was specifically trained to sense and alleviate an anxiety attack for a person with post-traumatic stress disorder would be covered, whereas a dog whose presence merely made the owner feel comforted would not.

At Allen & Allen, we regularly take cases to court when it is necessary to achieve full justice for our clients.  By staying familiar with the regulations guaranteeing access to the courts for all, we ensure that a client’s disability does not limit the options for pursuing his or her case to the fullest extent possible. If you believe that you may have a case, call us today for a free case consultation or fill out our contact form.