When people hear the term “service animal” they almost automatically default to a vision of a service dog. However, there are a number of other animals that provide service to the disabled. For instance, since at least the 1970s people with spinal cord and other mobility impairments have received highly trained capuchin monkeys. The only service animal, other than a dog, recognized by federal law is a miniature horse. As more and more medical providers explore the benefits of service and support animals, additional species are added to list. Have you heard of therapy chickens? It is a real thing.
As these animals enter the service/support world, more and more questions are bound to rise. Here, in New Jersey, the laws applying to workplaces and places of public accommodation require accommodation of individuals with disabilities. Those laws do not define or limit a service/support animal to a dog. Presumably, therefore, a strong argument could be made that your employer or local restaurant must accommodate your service chicken or service monkey, just as it would a service dog. There also appears to be a growing dispute between municipalities and individuals who have service animals that are otherwise banned (for example, chickens in a suburban town).
There have been very few cases around the country that explore the legal definition of these animals. Often they focus around the nature of the disability, the training the animal has received and the extent of the “service” that the animal can supply. You cannot just decide that you need a service animal but it must be done in concert with your medical provider and you must obtain a properly trained animal. While the law does not require strict proof of the training, you may be able to head off many disputes by having it on hand.
If you are having a problem with your service animal at work, at home or any public place, a discrimination attorney may be able to help.
Further reading: Monkeys and Horses and Ferrets…Oh My! Non-Traditional Service Animals Under the ADA