On April 9, 2010, the MSBA Animal Law Section, in conjunction with the University of Baltimore School of Law and the University Of Pennsylvania School of Law, will host the first-ever regional Mid-Atlantic symposium on animal law. The Impact On & Opportunities for Animals in the Current Political and Economic Climate will be a one-day symposium which will discuss a wide range of topics. The topic of service animals (or, as is now commonly utilized, assistance dogs) is slated to be a topic of one of the panels at the symposium. This is an apropos topic for the forthcoming symposium in that service animals are increasingly garnering publicity and are increasingly the subject of rule-making by the federal government.
For instance, the Department of Justice issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Titles II and III of the ADA. In the NPRM, which was issued in June 2008, the Justice Department addressed a myriad of issues, including, but not limited to, service animals. The Justice Department proposed a blanket exclusion of animals who do not furnish task-based assistance to people with disabilities – namely, emotional-support dogs. However, it clarified that animals that provide task-based assistance to people with mental health or cognitive disabilities (such as alerting their disabled handlers to administer medication) should be considered as a kind of assistance dog. Additionally, the proposed rules narrow the definition of service animals to domestic animals, excluding certain classes of animals, such as rodents.
The inauguration of President Barack Obama delayed the issuance of the updated regulations to Titles II and III. However, once the Office of Management and Budget reviews the proposed rules, these regulatory updates will be issued forthwith. Disability advocates anticipate this issuance by the end of 2009, or the beginning of 2010 – just in time for the symposium.
Why is this issue important to the Maryland legal community? Since the law of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is perpetually in flux, it is critical to know the definition of which animals actually constitute service animals or assistance dogs, and which animals fall within the purview of positive rights of access and accommodations provided under the ADA. For instance, the newly-enacted Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act, as well as the signature of the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations General Assembly of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, heightens the need for Maryland lawyers and judges to understand this area of the law.
Maryland attorneys and judges may be called on to represent a disabled client, which, in the context of assistance dogs, is increasingly called into question at the schoolhouse; or to provide, as an employer of legal professionals with disabilities, reasonable accommodations; or even to interpret the rights among disputing parties under the Human Services Title of the Annotated Code of Maryland (i.e., §§7-701 through 7-708).
As such, the topic of service animals is but one relevant and thought-provoking topic that will be at the symposium. Additionally, the author of this article and Alan Nemeth, both of whom serve on the steering committee of the Section, are serving as the Principle Co-Chairs of the symposium. Proposals for articles or presentations are presently being accepted. More details about the symposium can be found at the Section’s webpage on the MSBA’s website, www.mdstatebar.com/sec_comm/sections/animallaw.
Gary C. Norman, Esq., is the Chair of the MSBA Animal Law Section. He is also an L.L.M. Candidate at AmericanUniversityWashingtonCollege of Law, and the recipient of the prestigious 2009 Ten Outstanding Young Americans Award.