Service Animals: #notjustpets

  • April 4, 2016


DRTparticipated in the Big Payback for the second tmime in 2016. Last year we had a blast sharing the DRT message and were so grateful for the support we received from our community. This year we hoped to build on that success and share a little more about one of our favorite areas of work – service animal users’ rights. 

The Big Payback

The Big Payback is an anunal community-wide, 24-hour online giving challenge hosted by The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (CFMT). This charitable event will help Middle Tennessee nonprofits raise much-needed unrestricted dollars and bring awareness to pressing needs in our communities. In 2015 participating organizations raised a total of $2.65 million dollars! DRT appreciates all the support we recieved from our donors!


In this video a service animal, Grace, leads her handler, Tricia, down a road along a curve. Grace answers the following question, 'Grace, do you have to wear a special harness?' Grace answers, 'No! I don't have to wear a harness, ID tag, or vest."

In this video the service animals, Grace, leads her handler, Tricia, into a building, onto an elevator, and down a hall and around a corner. Grace answers the following questions:
Question: Grace, are emotional support, therapy or comfort animals considered service animals under the ADA?
Grace: No. To be considered a service animal you must be trained to do a specific job or task, like I was.
Question: So Grace, what task do you perform for Tricia?
Grace: I am a Seeing Eye dog. My job is to guide Tricia while she walks, helping her avoid barriers and obstacles. 

(NOTE: DRT would like to credit Seeing Eye dogs for the use of two of their photos of puppies in training and clarify that Seeing Eye dogs are guide dogs, but not all guide dogs are Seeing Eye dogs. To learn more, visit their site

In this video, the service animal, Grace, who is a yellow lab, shares some photos of other service animals. These animals include Boarder Collies, German Shepards,  and Goldendoodles. Grace then answers the following: 
Question - Grace, can service animals be any breed of dog or just a yellow lab like you?
Grace - The ADA does NOT limit the breed of dog that can be a service animal. We come in all different shapes and sizes.

In this video a service animal, Grace, leads her handler, Tricia, into the backseat of an Urber car. Grace answers the following question, 'Grace, no offence, but I think dogs sticnk. I drive a taxi, can I refuse to drive you and Tricia.' Grace answers, 'Sorry, you're stuck with me. Businesses that provide services to the public must provide us access like everyone else."

In this video a service animal, Grace, leads her handler, Tricia, into an Au Bon Pain to buy a drink. Grace answers the following question, 'Grace, can you go to restaurants and grcoery stores?' Grace answers, ''Yes! I can go everywhere with Tricia." Then she's asked, 'But what about health codes?' Grace replies, "I'm not cooking your food...I'm just guiding Tricia. Sheesh. I'll keep my paws off your plate.'

The laws relating to animals in the lives of people with disabilities are complicated and vary based on the animal’s role and location. DRT’s work focuses specifically on service animals in business, government, and schools. However, we know other types of animals, such as emotional support animals, can also help people with disabilities in settings like housing and airplanes. So our campaign seeks to deepen everyone’s’ understanding of the idiosyncrasies surrounding this topic.

Getting all the details right is essential, because at DRT we know what important roles service animals play in the lives of Tennesseans with disabilities. And though many of them  are undeniably cute, we also know that service animals are not pets  and that their use truly helps ensure access and inclusion for all. 

Shared Stories


DRT also loved reading about the service animal in your lives that you shared with us on Facebook! Thank you for spreading the word that service animals are #notjustpets! 

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Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) is a nonprofit legal services organization that provides FREE services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities.

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