In Ontario, people with disabilities are protected under the following laws:
- Criminal Code (Department of Justice - Canada)
- Dog Owners’ Liability Act (Ministry of the Attorney General)
The term “service animal” is often perceived to refer to one particular type of service animal for one particular disability: the service animal being a guide dog and that disability being a vision disability. However, the scope of what a service animal is and what accommodation it provides to other disability-related needs is much wider.
Persons with epilepsy, persons with mental health disabilities and persons with other non-evident disabilities may all require the support of a service animal. That service animal may or may not be a guide dog; in fact, miniature horses, birds or even monkeys are sometimes used as service animals by persons with disabilities.
For persons who require the support of a service animal, the handler-animal relationship is an essential tool for independent living and full participation in society.
The Legal Framework
Several pieces of legislation in Ontario specifically address rights and restrictions for persons who use service animals. These include Ontario’s Human Rights Code(the “Code”), the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service Regulations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (the “AODA”), the Blind Persons’ Rights Act (the “BPRA”), and the Health Promotion and Protection Act (“HPPA”)
Ontario Human Rights Code
The definition of “disability” pursuant to the Code includes any person who has a “physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal” and extends the protection of the Code to persons who require the use of service animals.
While the Code is silent with respect to what defines a service animal the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”) has provided some guidance on the matter. For example, in Allarie v Rouble, the Tribunal made it clear that “there is nothing in the Code which limits the definition of a service animal to one which is trained or certified by a recognized disability-related organization.”
The Tribunal has emphasized that service cannot be denied to persons with disabilities who use service animals. Organizations have a legal obligation under the Code not to refuse a person entry or access to a building, premise, good or service on the basis that the person uses a service animal. If a person is accompanied by a service animal for disability-related reasons, denying entry or access to the person and his or her service animal would consequently be discrimination on the ground of disability.
It is important to note, however, that the Tribunal has also demonstrated that they are sensitive to the fact that many service providers and organizations are not well-versed in their obligations and duties when it comes to the use of service animals by persons with non-evident disabilities.
Accessibility Standards for Customer Service
Similar to the Code, the AODA itself is silent with respect to the rights of persons with disabilities and responsibilities or duties of service providers with regards to service animals. However, the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, which is a Regulation to the AODA, sheds light on the issue in section 4:
4. (2) If a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, the provider of goods or services shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and to keep the animal with him or her unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises.
Section 4 of the AODA also provides a concrete definition of ‘service animal’:
4. (8) In this section,
“guide dog” means a guide dog as defined in section 1 of the Blind Persons’ Rights Act;
“service animal” means an animal described in subsection (9);
4.(9) For the purposes of this section, an animal is a service animal for a person with a disability,
(a) if it is readily apparent that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to his or her disability; or
(b) if the person provides a letter from a physician or nurse confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to the disability.
While the Tribunal does not have the jurisdiction to apply or enforce the AODA or the Standards, the Tribunal has recognized that it is important to consider this legislation alongside the Code provisions. To that end, the Tribunal has incorporated the above definition into the legal framework for adjudicating human rights claims relating to persons who use service animals.
Blind Persons’ Rights Act
The BPRA is very specific in its application as it only applies to persons who have a vision disability and who use a guide dog. This Act therefore provides no protection for people with other types of disabilities who rely on service animals, or for people with a vision disability who use a service animal other than a guide dog. The BPRAhas a very narrow definition of a guide dog: a dog trained as a guide for a blind person and having the qualifications set out in regulations made under the Act. This suggests that in order for the protections of the BPRA to apply, the guide dog must be trained at one of the facilities set out in the Guide Dogs Regulation made under the BPRA.
Health Promotion and Protection Act
The Food Premises Regulation to the HPPA prohibits live birds and animals from entering rooms where food is manufactured, prepared, processed, handled, served, displayed, stored, sold or offered for sale.
The HPPA carves out an exception to this prohibition in order to permit service dogs in areas where food is served, sold, or offered for sale. It is important to note that the exception is expressly limited to service dogs. For the purposes of the HPPA, a dog is a service dog if it is readily apparent to an average person that the dog functions as a service dog for a person with a medical disability, or if the person can provide on request a letter from a physician or nurse confirming that the person requires a service dog. This definition also encompasses service dogs for people with invisible, intermittent, and/or chronic disabilities
In simpler words, the HPPA and Regulation permits service dogs to enter places like the dining area restaurants, but prohibit service dogs from being in areas where food is manufactured or prepared for public consumption.
Does a service animal need to be certified?
The existing provincial legislation and case law from the HRTO suggest that service animals for disabilities other than vision disabilities are not required to be officially certified in order to qualify as service animals for the purposes of human rights or accessibility legislation. In Robdrup v. J. Werner Property Management, the HRTO accepted that a dog that had not received formal training as a service dog was nonetheless a personal support animal because it was clear that the dog supported the applicant with respect to some of his disability-related needs.
Unfortunately, the Ontario Disability Support Program (“ODSP”) and Ontario Works (“OW”) rely on a dated policy directive that requires evidence of formal certification from accredited service animal training facilities in order for persons to receive additional benefits for their service animal. This is especially problematic as accreditation of service animals can be extremely costly and as such for recipients of ODSP and OW, the certification process may be cost-prohibitive. The Social Benefits Tribunal has determined that this policy directive is unreasonable and too restrictive yet it is unclear whether and how these programs will address this discrepancy.
Even though certification is not required by law, for those persons who have certification or registration for their service animal, it may be prudent to carry that documentation at all times. This documentation may make it easier for persons who use service animals to assert their rights when accessing public spaces and services.
What questions can legally be asked of people who use service animals?
There is no piece of legislation that clearly sets out what a service provider can and cannot ask a service animal team. The case law from the HRTO provides some guidelines in this regard.
In Allarie v Rouble, the HRTO found that it is not unreasonable for a service provider to ask for identification or medical documentation to show that the animal is a service animal where it is not immediately obvious that the animal is supporting disability-related needs. However, the HRTO also held that a medical note should be sufficient to establish that the animal is a service animal. Of course, that medical note need not disclose more than what is necessary to explain that the animal is a disability-related need.
The HRTO stated that, once the medical note was provided, it was not for the service provider to look behind the medical evidence and use their own observations to determine whether the animal was a service animal. The HRTO reasoned that this may risk persons with less visible disabilities, including mental health disabilities, to be subject to more onerous standards to access services.
More recently, in Scott v Siu, the HRTO found that even where the animal was readily identifiable as a service animal, it was not discriminatory in and of itself for the service provider to request further supporting documentation. In that case, the Applicant argued that her service animal was wearing proper service animal attire and that it should have been obvious to the service provider that the animal was a disability-related need. She argued that she was inappropriately singled out and humiliated, on the basis of disability, when the service provider requested that she provide supporting documentation.
In this case, it is important to note that the Applicant was not refused service – she provided the requested documentation to the service provider and attended her appointment without further incident. Rather, the Applicant’s only allegation was that the request for additional medical documentation was discriminatory. In dismissing her application, the HRTO found that because it is “notorious that service dog vests can be purchased on the internet” and the applicant was not denied service, there was nothing discriminatory in requesting supporting documentation.
Scott v Siu is an example of barriers experienced by persons with less visible disabilities, such as mental health disabilities. Even simple medical notes may disclose stigmatizing information about the person’s disability, such as the specialty of the doctor. Further, for persons with non-evident disabilities who often experience increased stigma, having to prove disability-related needs each time they wish to access a service may amount to a discriminatory barrier.
Are there any circumstances where a person may need to provide more information about their service animal?
Often in the context of housing, employment or education, a person may need specific accommodations for their service animal. In that case, the landlord, employer, or educational institution may be entitled to additional information beyond a brief medical note. In Robdrup v J Werner Property Management , the HRTO found that where a service provider is notified by the person that he or she has disability-related needs, the service provider has a duty to make meaningful inquiries about those needs.
Similarly, in JF v Waterloo Catholic District School Board, the HRTO found that the duty of the service provider means that they are required to conduct an individualized assessment to understand the disability-related needs and to determine the extent to which accommodation is required. The person need not disclose their diagnosis, but it is important that the person provide further information as necessary for the service provider to understand their needs to support their request for accommodation.
Service Dog Ontario Q&A – Introduction
It’s not always obvious that a service dog is a working dog, or what a service dog may be doing to help somebody with their life.
There are other types of dogs, too, such as emotional support animals, therapy dogs, comfort animals, and others, and this can be confusing when you aren’t sure what the differences are.
This article will go through some of the most common types of dogs, and break down the rules and laws as they pertain specifically to Ontario, Canada.
What Is a Service Dog?
Service Dog Ontario Definition
- A Service Dog has been individually trained. It has been trained to help a specific person with that person’s disability
- The work or tasks that the dog does help to mitigating the functional limitations of the disability
- Service dogs are entitled to public access rights with their trainer or owner
- Someone with their service dog can bring the dog into a movie theater, restaurant, doctor’s office, government building, or anywhere else the public can go (with a few exceptions)
What Is a Therapy Dog?
A therapy dog is usually someone’s pet that enjoys meeting a large number of different people, such as in a school classroom, nursing home, or hospital setting.
These dogs may or may not be trained, but they are not trained for one person or one person’s specific disability. This is the main difference between a therapy dog and a service dog.
Therapy dogs are often taken with their owner into different settings, and multiple people enjoy the benefits of these friendly creatures.
People who are stuck in hospitals or other medical settings, or perhaps in schools or other institutions benefit from the positive effects of having a friendly, calm, animal to pet, hold, or be around.
Therapy dogs don’t enjoy the same public access rights as service dogs but are still important to the people they encounter.
What Is a Companion Dog?
A companion dog is considered a pet, an important animal that can help people just with its presence; just by being there. And, it must follow all the normal rules and bylaws for pets.
Companion animals are not considered service dogs because they have not been individually trained for a specific person’s disability.
What Is a Working Dog?
A working dog is a general term that can mean different things. Working dogs are trained to perform a specific task or job, and are typically handled by a professional.
Some examples of working dogs are police dogs, military working dogs, detection dogs, search and rescue dogs, and herding dogs.
What Is An Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is an animal that could be a dog, cat, or another type of animal that offers comfort to people who live with certain conditions.
Anxiety and depression are just a few examples. Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s) aren’t the same things.
Emotional support animals have not been trained to perform a specific task for a person with a disability. ESA’s may be trained, but typically provide comfort and security by their mere presence.
Given this, emotional support animals do not quality as Service Dogs under the AODA – Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
Service Dog Ontario – Who is Eligible?
Anyone who is living with a disability in Ontario can get a Service Dog.
Service dogs are meant to:
- Help with daily life and other tasks
- To improve quality of life
- To access to different opportunities to the people who utilize them
Disabilities can be visible or invisible and can be present from birth, developed over time, or caused by an accident.
Some examples of disabilities include:
- Visual impairment or blindness
- Hearing disabilities or deafness
- Speech impairments
- Physical or mobility disabilities(such as paralysis, amputation, difficulty with balance and/or coordination)
- Brain injuries
- PTSD or other psychiatric conditions
- Epilepsy or another seizure disorder
- Intellectual disabilities
- Learning disabilities
- Developmental disabilities
- Mental health conditions
If you think you may be a good candidate for a service animal, one of the first things to do would be to consult with your doctor, or other relevant health care professional. They can help determine if this would be the right choice for you.
It’s a big decision. You need to consider all of the ways this may affect your life, both negative and positive.
- Read more about the pros and cons of having a service dog.
- Or read: The Best Service Dog Breeds & How to Choose One For You
Having a living, breathing, medical assistance device living with you 24/7 may be a big change. This might be especially for people not used to even having pets.
Service Dog Ontario – Is a Service Dog Right for You?
- Remember that a Service Dog is still a dog
- He or she will be with you all the time
- Do you think this is something that is a good fit for your circumstances, situation, or abilities?
Some Things To Ask Yourself Before Getting a Service Dog
- Do you have funds to cover the Veterinary Costs?
- Dogs need insurance and good quality food
- Sometimes, you may need to pay for assistance you may need with the animal
- For example, walking, grooming, and training
Service Dog Ontario – Physical, Mental & Emotional Considerations
- Are you able to walk the dog, provide the basics like bathroom breaks?
- Would you be able to participate in training with your dog?
- Do you know about the basics of dog care?
- Are you okay with the fact that the dog has a physical and a working lifespan which is likely much shorter than yours?
- Do you have someone who can care for your dog if you are unable?
If You Decide A Service Dog Is Right For You
- If you decide this is right, you need to obtain a simple letter from your doctor
- You could also get your letter from another healthcare professional
- This letter will simply state that you require a Service Dog
- It does not need to include any further details
- Once you have this letter, you may obtain your Service Dog
- You can put a vest on him or her and continue to public places with your dog as your Service Dog
Service Dog Ontario: Where Can You Get One?
If you decide that a Service Dog is right for you, where can you get one from? There are several options
- You could adopt a dog and train him/her yourself
- Another option is to adopt a dog and train him yourself with the help and assistance of an experienced dog training professional
- And yet another potential option would be to get a trained service dog from a reputable organization. Some of these organizations are non-profit or charity groups and have very long waiting lists and/or a lengthy application process
- This may or may not be the right option for you, but it’s an option
- Read more about how to find a reputable dog breeder
How to Find a Reputable NonProfit or Charity Who Adheres to Ethical Standards
- Check out Assistance Dogs International which is commonly accepted as the ‘Global Authority in the Assistance Dogs Industry.’
- Please note that ADI will only allow established nonprofit, or charitable programs, to apply for accreditation or membership
- There are many additional resources available that offer perfectly ethical and exceptional Service Dogs to you or someone who needs one.
There are many private organizations or businesses that also offer trained Service Dogs. Or, they may help you to train your own.
Just be careful and know that the dog training industry is quite under-regulated at this time.
So, it’s important to do your homework. Be sure to research their experience and qualifications. There are several organizations that all offer memberships to professionals. This ensures high standards and codes of ethics are followed.
Check them out here:
- Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers (CAPPDT)
- Association of Animal Behaviour Professionals (AABP)
- Certified Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT)
- Animal Behaviour Society (ABS)
Service Dog Training Ontario
If you’re looking to train a service dog in Ontario, there are several options. You could train the dog yourself, get someone else to help you train the dog, or you could apply for a dog and receive one from a recognized institution.
Many people train their dog themselves for various reasons, one being that service dog organizations often have long waiting lists and limited resources. Check out the following as a few examples of service dog training options and resources.
Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers
The Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers is an insane resource for anyone needing to learn more, or to get some help training a service dog.
- Find a service dog trainer in your area
- Get advice on how to choose a trainer
- Get advice on getting a new puppy
- Get advice on getting an adult or rescue dog
- Get access to training resources
- … and so much more
K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs
K9CI is a unique owner-trained service dog training and support program. They have various service dog training and mentorship programs. New service dog teams can receive training and encouragement from experienced trainers.
K9CI has programs for:
- PTSDService Dogs
- AutismService Dogs
- Mobility Service Dogs
- Therapy Dogs
Clients are taught:
- Proper handling skills
- Dog obedience
- Service dog protocols
- Learning about the laws and rights of a service dog handler in Ontario
- Training is taught in person, by video, and/or on the phone
- Training is customized to meet specific needs
- K9CI affiliates can guide you through training in the first two years and will always be available to help after your training is complete
- Check out K9C1 here
When Hounds Fly Dog Training
When Hounds Fly offers coaching services for handler-trained service dogs. In other words, they will guide you through the essential training process with your own dog. This takes place over a series of private lessons.
When Hounds Fly would be a great match for the following type of person:
- Someone who lives with a disability in Ontario, and would benefit from a service dog that could perform assistance work or tasks
- Someone who understands that a service animal is a valuable piece of medical equipment that happens to be alive, not a pet
- Someone who has the ability to be open and honest about their disability, limitations, and needs. While they don’t need every last detail or anything like that, a good understanding will allow them to help you to the best of their (and your) potential
- Someone who has the time, energy, and funds to train their own dog on a regular basis with some help (this is not a board-and-train)
- Someone who has a physically and mentally sound dog that they can evaluate, or if you are in the process of acquiring a potential service dog for training
When Hounds Fly is not able to help people who need service dogs for high-level, high-risk tasks. Examples of these would be as an anaphylaxis alert service dog, seizure alert service dog, or guiding a person who is completely blind.
Working Paws is another option if you need help to train your service dog. (And who doesn’t? Training a service dog is no easy task.)
Working Paws.ca works with privately-owned dogs. It has a focus on training your dog to be a future service dog. They work with people of all disabilities and ages.
Their goal is to ensure a perfect match. And don’t worry if you don’t have a dog; they can help you find the perfect match.
Working Paws.ca believes in including any person who is living with a developmental or a physical disability. Working Paws caters its service to meet individual needs.
Service Dog Certification Ontario
In Ontario, a formal certification or testing of Service Dogs does not currently exist. To ensure a dog is a respected member of the community, The Canadian Canine Good Citizen test is recommended.
This can help to make sure dogs are trained and conditioned to act mannerly in the home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs.
Service Dog Public Access Rights in Ontario
All service providers that operate premises open to the public, must welcome service animals in Ontario. They must allow customers with disabilities to keep their service animals with them anywhere they need to go.
The only exception is in places where the law excludes service animals (like inside a sterile operating room environment, for example).
Identification of Service Animals in Ontario
If you have a service dog in Ontario, there are two ways that people (businesses) can legally determine if your animal is a service dog.
- Sometimes it is simply visibly apparent that you need the animal for reasons relating to disability, due to the nature of the disability, or the identification of the dog by a harness or service dog vest
- If your dog does not wear a vest and/or your disability is not obvious, you can provide an identification card, or a letter from a healthcare practitioner, confirming that you need the animal for reasons relating to a disability
Any of the following healthcare providers are acceptable:
- An audiologist or speech-language pathologist
- Occupational therapist
- Mental health therapist
In some cases, the law does not allow service animals.
But if there is no law against service animals at a certain business or location, then service animals must be allowed to go with their handler anywhere the general public can go, including taxis, grocery stores, and malls.
However, if a business exists where the law restricts service animals, then the business or facility must provide another way for service dog handlers to access their goods, services, or facilities.
Emotional Support Animals in Ontario
Emotional support animals are not service dogs. They provide comfort and ease anxiety, for example, just by being there for someone.
Establishments aren’t required to allow emotional support animals on their businesses’ premises.
This is because emotional support animals are not specially and individually trained to mitigate the effects of a specific person’s disability.
Emotional support animals may not have the same public access rights as service dogs, but they may have more rights in housing situations, and their definition is broader for that purpose.
Limitations and Exceptions for Service Animal Access Rights in Ontario
As per AODA, (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) All businesses, and service providers in Ontario must welcome service animals. There are only a few food-related exceptions, like certain sections in food manufacturers.
Sometimes, a person with a disability who uses a service animal might want or need to access a particular location that is generally open to the public, but where service animals or service dogs are not legally permitted in Ontario.
In these circumstances, service providers need to still offer alternative accommodation. This is to ensure that the customer can still access the service that is usually offered in that location.
Providers have a few options. They might serve the customer in a location open to the animal.
Or, providers might be able to serve the customer in a location where the animal is not allowed. If this happens, the service animal may wait in a different location.
Service providers need to follow these service animal laws. Otherwise, they are obstructing the law. Penalties may occur.
By welcoming service animals, businesses and other providers are showing a sincere commitment to serving all customers, regardless of disabilities.
Service Dog Organizations in Ontario
Here are a few examples of service dog organizations in Ontario – not an exhaustive list.
COPE Service Dogs specializes in training dogs for people who primarily have mobility disabilities. They currently do not deal with psychiatric service dogs.
They are currently serving clients in Canada within a 3-hour driving distance of Barrie, Ontario within the Canadian border. COPE does not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, level of literacy, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, age, or disability.
Thames Centre Service Dogs mission is to ‘provide humanely trained, trustworthy service dogs of excellence to improve our clients quality of life, while safely guiding them towards increased independence’
They are located just outside Mount Brydges in Caradoc County and have an extensive adult program at their facility.
Their clients include – for example – many with various issues, including brain injury/illness, epilepsy, PTSD, Operational Stress Injury, psychiatric as well as other health concerns.
Please contact them to see if you qualify.
National Service Dogs services a variety of clients. Examples of dogs they provide are PTSD Dogs, Autism Dogs, Canine assisted intervention dogs, Companion Dogs, and Career Change Dogs.
Psychiatric Service Dogs Ontario
In case it’s not already obvious, obtaining or training a service dog is no easy or simple task. Whether you train the dog yourself, get a trainer to help you, or obtain a dog from an organization, it likely won’t be a quick process. The same is true for when you need a psychiatric service dog. Let’s discuss getting a psychiatric service dog in Ontario. Also, read about DPT Psychiatric Service Dogs.
How Do I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog in Ontario?
To get a psychiatric service dog, you can either train your dog yourself, have someone help you train your dog, or, obtain your service dog from a for-profit or not-for-profit organization. The very first thing you need to do in this process is to contact your doctor in order to get a letter. Or, contact another healthcare professional as mentioned in the Identification section above.
If you apply to any service dog organization, they will surely want you to include this in your application package. You will also need this letter if you ever have to fly on an airplane with your service dog.
There are several avenues to a psychiatric service dog in Ontario:
- Training the dog yourself, or with help from dog trainers or an organization
- Obtaining a psychiatric service dog from a private organization– can be costly
- Obtaining the psychiatric service dog from a nonprofit or charity organization. While these organizations often provide fully-trained service dogs to people who need them at no charge, there are often long waiting lists (more than two years is common)
- The cost to train one service dog is at least $20,000 regardless of whether a for-profit or non-profit organization is training is. Non-profits rely heavily on donations and sponsorships.
What are the rules in Ontario for residents with service animals?
Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code, service animals are allowed in a variety of public settings, including restaurants, grocery stores and taxis, unless animals are specifically banned by law.
However, even in the instances where animals are prohibited, officials said businesses and groups “should provide another way for the person to access their goods, services or facilities.”
In order to meet the Ontario government’s definition of a service animal, guidelines stated it must be “easily identifiable as relating to [a person’s disability] (the noted example included an animal wearing a vest that identifies it as a service animal).
Alternatively, a document from a regulated health professional (e.g. audiologist, physician, surgeon, psychologist, psychotherapist etc.) outlining how the animal is needed because of a disability can also be used.
Certificates and identity cards aren’t required.
According to an Ontario Human Rights Commission spokesperson, the body issued a policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability in 2016 and as part of its guidance on making accommodations to respond to the needs of people with disabilities, rules on guide dogs and service animals are among the options.
“People with disabilities who use service animals to assist them with disability-related needs (such as anxiety) are also protected under the definition of ‘disability’ in section 10 of the [Ontario Human Rights Code]. Service animals do not have to be trained or certified by a recognized disability-related organization,” the policy said.
“However, where it is not immediately obvious that the animal is performing a disability-related service, a person must be able to show evidence (such as a letter from a doctor or other qualified medical professional) that they have a disability and that the animal assists with their disability-related needs.”