News

As of July 29, 2016, the Maine Human Rights Act was amended to slightly change definitions on this often confusing topic. 

In the past, Maine law had a two-part definition for "service animal". One part of the definition included service dogs that provide a concrete task or work to help a person with a disability (such as guiding a person with a vision disability, or alerting a person with a seizure disorder or PTSD to an oncoming issue), which were required to be allowed in "public accommodations", or places/services open to or serving the public. The other part of the definition included animals that provided emotional support or comfort to persons with disabilities (commonly known as "emotional support", "therapy" or "companion" animals), which were required to be allowed in housing.  Having both categories identified as "service animals" led to confusion in Maine, and to concerns about people misrepresenting assistance animals as "true" service animals as many people in public places understand that term.

The intent of LD1601 was to clarify which animals a person with a disability is entitled to use in different places in Maine. One method of addressing that confusion was to separate out definitions for "service animals" that must be allowed in public accommodations from the definition of "assistance animal" that must be allowed in housing along with service animals. LD 1601 involved a year of discussion by several Legislative subcommittees, a broad panel of interested parties and the Legislature itself, several drafts and redrafts, and passage by the Legislature. After the Governor vetoed the bill in April 2016, the Legislature voted to override the veto, and the revised law became effective on July 29, 2016. 

The Maine Human Rights Act definition of "service animal" was changed as follows: 

For the purposes of subchapter 5, a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual's disability. Examples of such work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting an individual who is totally or partially blind with navigation and other tasks, alerting an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing nonviolent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting an individual to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or a telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to an individual with a mobility disability and helping a person with a psychiatric or neurological disability by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.

The Maine Human Rights Acct now has a new, separate definition for "assistance animal" in 5 M.R.S.  4553 as follows:

1-H Assistance animal.   "Assistance animal" means, for the purposes of subchapter 4:

AAn animal that has been determined necessary to mitigate the effects of a physical or mental disability by a physician, psychologist, physician assistant, nurse practitioner or licensed social worker; or

BAn animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical or mental disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to intruders or sounds, providing reasonable protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or retrieving dropped items.

In HOUSING, a person with a disability is entitled to have the assistance of either a service animal OR an assistance animal.

In PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS (places/services open to or serving the public, whether publicly or privately owned), a person with a disability is entitled to have the assistance of a service animal. 

LD 1601 made other updates regarding service/assistance animals as well, including increasing the existing fine for misrepresentation of a service/assistance animal and expanding the actions that could lead to such a fine to include misrepresenting an animal as a service/assistance animal or knowingly creating or providing documents falsely identifying an animal as a service/assistance animal.  If you want to look at the actual changes in the law, you can go to this link from the Legislature (http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/getPDF.asp?paper=HP1092&item=3&snum=127); the Maine Revisor of Statutes has not yet updated the law at the general statute site.

The Commission's informational pamphlets online have been updated at these links: 
http://maine.gov/mhrc/guidance/Assistanceanimalpamphletmay2017.pdff and http://www.maine.gov/mhrc/guidance/serviceanimal.PA.pdf

Many people in the disability community are not yet aware of these changes to the laws regarding service and assistance animals, and it is a complex topic, so please feel free to call or email us for information!

Amy M. Sneirson
Executive Director
Maine Human Rights Commission