The law is not simple when it comes to proving that a dog is a service animal. It depends on which province you are in and where are you taking the animal.
In Ontario, guide dogs for people who are blind have specific training and government-issued ID cards.
But Ontario does not issue ID cards or certification for other types of service animals (like seizure response or autism assistance dogs). So how can you prove that your dog is a “service animal”?
If you are going to a place where goods, services, or facilities are provided to members of the public (such as a store, on public transit, or to a restaurant), the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act gives you the right to enter the premises and keep the animal with you. The animal must be readily identified as being used for reasons relating to a disability, as a result of visual indicators such as the vest or harness worn by the animal, or you must provide a note from certain regulated health professionals. The note should confirm that you need the animal for reasons relating to a disability, but you do not have to disclose what the disability is or what the animal is trained to do.
If you want to bring your service animal to school, work or to live with you in an apartment or condo, the rules are more complex. Ontario’s Human Rights Code applies, but it doesn’t define what a service animal is or say anything about what proof you need to provide. Under the Code, you need to establish that you have a disability, and that you need the animal to accompany you in order to properly accommodate your disability. The school, employer, or housing provider is required to balance your need for a service animal against any competing rights of other users of the space. Accommodation can involve a process of exchanging information and working to address the needs of the service animal user as well as others.
As a starting point, find out if your school, employer, or housing unit has a policy about service animals. These policies might set out what information the school/employer/housing provider is prepared to accept. This said, not all policies comply with the Human Rights Code, and they can be challenged.
You will likely be required to provide a note from your doctor. This note may need to give some information about the nature of the medical condition (although not necessarily the diagnosis) and why the animal is needed to assist you with that condition. In some circumstances, you may have to get your doctor to fill out a more detailed questionnaire.
You may also need to provide some proof about your dog’s training. A big challenge for people who need service dogs is that there are very few organizations that train them in Canada, and that there are often long waiting lists, and so people may self-train the dog (with or without a professional dog trainer) or purchase the animal from the United States. Nothing in the Human Rights Code allows an employer, school or housing provider to insist that service animals have a specific type of certification or training. However, they may be entitled to know that the dog is trained to assist with a disability or that it has obedience training so that it will not cause a risk to other people.
In some cases, you might have to provide some information about the duties the animal performs (although not necessarily why the dog is performing those duties). If the dog is trained to alert others, for example, then it may be appropriate for a school or workplace to inform the students or staff about what they should do if the animal is barking. However, if the dog is performing a task directed at the handler (like nudging the handler), other people may not need to know why this is being done.
One last point — do not waste your money on getting an online service animal certificate. There are companies that will sell what looks like “official” paper work, but do not require you to provide any proof that the animal is a service animal. These documents have absolutely no legal effect.
If you need help navigating a service animal situation, we can help. Contact Kelly Doctor at the email address or telephone number above.