Wild Animals Should not be Service Animals

chimpanzeeThere is a debate over whether just any animal and particularly wild animals can or should be service animals. In just the last month two federal courts, one in Arizona and one in Missouri, found nonhuman primates in those particular situations could not be considered "service animals".

In the Arizona case, the owner claimed her chimpanzee provided help that allowed her to cope with  juvenile onset diabetes (type 1) which was "complicated by gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach no longer contracts and empties properly, causing delay and variability in the time between eating and the corresponding increase in blood glucose level."

The owner purchased the chimpanzee in Texas for $ 25,000. She flew to Texas and drove back to Arizona with the 2 year old chimpanzee.

Arizona, however, restricts chimpanzees. The state Fish & Game Dept. ordered the owner to remove the animal from the state on the basis of safety and health concerns, and because under Arizona law people cannot possess chimpanzees as pets or service animals. The Department rejected her claim the Americans with Disabilities Act entitled her to keep the chimpanzee. In fact, the owner had applied to the U.S. Dept of Agriculture for an exhibitor’s license, claiming she planned to keep the chimpanzee in a film or commercials or take the animal to schools to "educate" children. She had not mentioned in her application the chimpanzee would be a service animal.

In her lawsuit against the State of Arizona, the owner claimed the Fish & Game Dept.’s refusal to grant her a waiver and allow her to keep the chimp constituted discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §12132 and §504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

U.S. District Court Judge Neil V. Wake said in his opinion at 606 F. Supp. 2d 1065, however, the "Chimpanzee does not currently meet the definition of ‘service animal’ because it is not yet ‘individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.’ It has been socialized and is able to retrieve objects on command, as are many household pets that are not service animals, but it is not trained to perform tasks specifically related to Pruett’s disability….On the current record, having the Chimpanzee in her home to retrieve and administer emergency assistance to Pruett is not only unnecessary, it likely is inadequate".  

The judge did not, however, reject that a nonhuman primate could be a service animal. In fact, the judge noted the owner previously owned a Tonkean Ape which did qualify as a service animal and suggested she "obtain and train another Tonkean ape or another primate that Arizona law would permit her to possess if she keeps it away from the public."

In the Missouri federal case U.S. District Court Judge Richard E. Dorr found the owner of a Bonnet Macaque was not disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Regardless, said the judge, the monkey did no more than provide "comfort" like many pets and did not qualify as a service animal. In that case the owner complained Wal-mart and other local businesses and the health department discriminated against her by not allowing her into public places with the monkey she claimed is a service animal.  

The term "service animal" is defined broadly under federal law:

"any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. 28 CFR PART 36 APP. B Commercial facilities and public accommodations

"any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items. 28 CFR 36.104, 34 CFR 300.34, 49 CFR 37.3

Bonnet macaqueThe regulations elaborate: "Service animals shall always be permitted to accompany their users in any private or public transportation vehicle or facility. One of the most common misunderstandings about service animals is that they are limited to being guide dogs for persons with visual impairments. Dogs are trained to assist people with a wide variety of disabilities, including individuals with hearing and mobility impairments. Other animals (e.g., monkeys) are sometimes used as service animals as well. In any of these situations, the entity must permit the service animal to accompany its user." 49 CFR Part 37 App. D

Last year, however, the Bush administration announced proposed changes to clarify these regulations and specifically ban the use of wild animals as service animals. 73 Federal Register 34466 The Obama administration is studying these changes. 

In proposing the changes, the adminstration explained, "The [government] continues to receive a large number of complaints from individuals with service animals. It appears, therefore, that many … are confused about their obligations under the ADA in this area. At the same time, some individuals with impairments–who would not be covered as qualified individuals with disabilities–are claiming that their animals are legitimate service animals, whether fraudulently or sincerely (albeit mistakenly), to gain access to the facilities of public entities. Another trend is the use of wild or exotic animals, many of which are untrained, as service animals. In order to clarify its position and avoid further misapplication of the ADA, the Department is proposing amendments to its regulation with regard to service animals."

While expanding the types of tasks an animal could perform that would qualify him or her as a service animal, the proposed regulations would specifically state that

(1) "service animal’ does not include wild animals (including nonhuman primates born in captivity),   reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including any breed of horse, pony, miniature horse, pig, and goat), ferrets, amphibians, and rodents"; and

(2) "animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or promote emotional well-being are not service animals."

Wild animals belong in the wild. They should not be pets or exploited whether for research, by circuses or zoos or other exhibitions, or as service animals. For more……