An “assistance animal” (whether dog or otherwise) is an animal which is legally recognised, not as a pet, but as a medical aid providing an essential function for people with disability.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) an assistance animal must either be:
- Accredited under state or territory law to assist a person with a disability to alleviate the effects of that disability; or
- Accredited by an animal training organisation that is listed in the Act’s regulations; or
- Trained to assist a person with a disability and meet standards of hygiene and behaviour appropriate for animals in public places.
Accordingly the training does not need to be provided by an accredited organisation but the training must be relevant to the disability and the owner must actually have a disability in order to qualify for keeping an assistance animal under the Disability Discrimination Act.
A similar definition applies to an “assistance dog” within the meaning of section 8 of the Dog Act 1976 (WA) and regulation 12.
It is also worth noting that in order to qualify for keeping an assistance animal under the discrimination legislation, the owner must actually have a disability, and the assistance animal must actually be capable of assisting the owner to manage the disability. A disability does not have to be physical (ie blindness, crippled etc) it can also include medically certified anxiety disorders.
“Emotional support animals” vs “Assistance animals”
“Emotional support animals” is a phrase used in the US but is not legally recognised here in Australia.
Unlike “assistance animals”, “emotional support animals” are not normally trained to carry out specific tasks that will help their owners in their daily lives. Such animals are there to provide companionship and comfort and are simply pets.
What to do if a resident wishes to have an animal in your caravan park and claim it is an “Assistance Animal”?
If a resident and their animal meet the tests of the Disability Discrimination Act then the animal will be an “assistance animal” and must be allowed in the park. Park Rules prohibiting pets are of no effect in this situation and are overridden by this law.
Where a resident and the animal do not satisfy the tests, the animal will simply be a pet. The resident’s right with regards to keeping the pet are then generally subject to the terms of their agreement and the park rules.
If the agreement prohibits pets (and park rules are silent on the issue) then the park operator can choose to waive a restriction in a particular agreement to allow a pet.
If the park rules prohibit pets, then it will be more difficult to waive the rule for just one resident as the park rules are a commitment to all residents (some of whom may have chosen your park due to the no pets rule). Although the park operator could technically waive the rule for one resident, it would be better to amend the rule first so that the rule permitted pets only if the park operator gives consent.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
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