Having helped numerous disabled veterans rectify their housing discrimination complaints against apartment owners who refuse to accept service dogs because of their breed or size, I have had just as many conversations with those apartment owners about what a service dog really is. This is only a confusing subject to most people because of all the misinformation that’s circulated throughout the real estate community, and then passed on the tenants, without anyone to correct them.
Without citing the fair housing act, I will provide an over simplified understanding of what a bona fide service dog is.
I explain it this way: “If my grandmother has obvious problems walking- she cannot get up from her kitchen chair without someone helping her- and her German Shepherd dog, Fluffy, knows how to use her collar and leash to safely pull my grandmother up to a standing position, as well as provide stability when my grandmother does walk, then Fluffy is a service animal.”
In my story my grandmother has a readily apparent issue with walking, which is a daily life activity. By fair housing standards, she is Disabled. She has a daily life activity which is substantially limited- period. Her German Shepherd dog, Fluffy, provides assistance which specifically addresses and alleviates the symptoms of that disability. Fluffy helps her to a standing position, and provides stability and assistance to my grandmother so she can walk. So, fluffy satisfies a specific disability-related need, and is therefore a ‘service animal’ under the fair housing act.
Regardless of Fluffy’s training, or even lack of ‘professional’ training, as long as Fluffy provides assistance that specifically addresses the disability (walking), Fluffy becomes a service dog- period.
So, to simply sum it up. If someone is disabled [daily life activity substantially limited] and their dog provides assistance which directly addresses the disability and one of its symptoms, then the dog is a service animal. My grandmother needs Fluffy to walk, and therefore needs Fluffy to be able to use and enjoy her apartment and all of its amenities and common areas. Without Fluffy, how could my grandmother get to the clubhouse? Use a chair at the clubhouse?
By the way, it does not matter that my grandmother trained Fluffy, as long as Fluffy can provide the necessary assistance.
Reasonable accommodations need to be provided to my grandmother in the rules, policies, or procedures of an apartment complex, for example, should she need to so that she can have her service dog and enjoy the benefits of fair housing.
In another article I can address a situation where the disability is not so apparent.