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Animal Assistance

Pete Springer/OPB

A Hillsboro third grader and his dog drew media attention this week because of his family’s struggle with the school district over whether or not he should be allowed to bring the German shepherd to class with him. The family says the dog isn’t just a pet, but a service animal, who is trained in specific ways to help the boy, who is autistic. The school argues that the dog is a therapy animal — basically a helpful pet — and that it’s not necessary to have such an animal in the classroom. 

The line between service and therapy animals isn’t always clear.

Places that don’t allow pets have to make exceptions for service animals such as guide dogs and dogs that assist people with other kinds of disabilities. But the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) limits business owners and others from asking too many questions of people who travel with canine companions. They can ask if the dog is a service animal and, if so, what tasks the dog is trained to do that its owner cannot. Assistance Dogs International sets training standards for organizations that train dogs to help disabled people around the country, but there is no legally accepted standard for training. Even if there were, the ADA would protect people from having to produce documentation in order to take their animals into a business or public building. All of this makes it difficult to draw lines between specifically trained service dogs and animals that simply help their owners feel better. It also means that some people abuse the law.

Do you have a service or therapy dog? How does your animal help you? Are you a business owner? What rules do you have about allowing animals in your business? How do you distinguish between service animals, therapy animals and pets?


  • Wendy Givens: Mother of a boy with autism who has a dog that is trained to help him in various ways
  • Eduardo Delanderos-Tierre: A veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who has a dog to help mitigate his symptoms
  • Robin Dickson: President and CEO of Dogs for the Deaf and secretary of Assistance Dogs International
  • Joe Gilliam: President of the Northwest Grocery Association
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