By Sarah Davis, NDASA Membership Coordinator, CPC, CPCT
When collecting specimens for drug testing, the best course of action is this: follow the rules. The rules and procedures for any specimen collection will help ensure, to the best of the collector’s abilities, the laboratory receives an error-free Custody and Control Form (CCF) and a legitimate specimen ready for screening.
Collectors often face challenges that can stymy the process, and even the smallest change in the collection scenario can raise several questions about how to perform the collection correctly. Among them is the presence of a service animal, which can become a head-scratcher for collectors.
WHAT IS A SERVICE ANIMAL?
A service animal is an animal trained to perform a specific task to assist its handler who has a disability. In the United States, a service animal is permitted to be only a dog or a miniature horse. These animals are heavily protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the refusal of service to the handler of a service animal can result in fines, a court summons, and even jail time. A service animal is considered medical equipment, not a pet, and cannot be separated from its handler.
A psychiatric service animal has the exact same protections as a regular service animal, but often is trained to assist with a disability that is completely undetectable when simply looking at the animal’s handler.
These animals typically undergo 12-18 months of rigid training and daily training exercises with their handler to perform their service tasks. Service animals also have a standard of behavior referred to as “public access training,” to ensure the animal is quiet, focused, in control, and well-behaved at all times. When these animals are in public spaces, they are working and typically behave accordingly.
A few important things to know about the service animal are:
- These animals are not required to be on a leash because that could impede their ability to perform their service task.
- These animals are not required to have a vest or ID card identifying them as service animals. These items are voluntary.
- These animals are not required to have a certificate confirming they have been trained professionally. Professional dog training is prohibitively expensive, especially for people who may not be able to work because of a disability. The ADA states in no uncertain terms that service animal handlers are allowed to self-train their animals.
You can visit the ADA.gov page about service animals for more clarifying information.
WHAT ISN’T A SERVICE ANIMAL?
The emotional support animal is one that brings its handler comfort simply by existing. It is defined as an animal whose presence ameliorates the effects of an emotional disability through companionship. The emotional support animal’s only legal protection in the U.S. is inside residential spaces. These animals are not required to have any training. They are allowed to be any species of animal (within reason), and are not allowed public access. An emotional support animal has no legal protection to accompany its handler into public spaces, and there are no legal ramifications for asking the animal to be removed before drug testing an individual. Emotional support animals are covered only under the Fair Housing Act.
A personal protection animal is an animal trained to protect its handler, and it also is not considered a service animal. These animals have no legal protection to enter public spaces and are not considered a medical necessity for their handler. Personal protection animals have no legal protections in the U.S.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN INSIDE A BUSINESS?
When the handler of a service animal enters a business, the animal typically is identified with a vest or leash stating, “service animal,” working dog,” “do not pet,” or similar language. If an employee feels the need to ask the handler about the animal, the ADA specifies only two questions are allowed:
- Is that a service animal?
- What is this animal trained to do?
Handlers can answer the second question as vaguely as they wish because they do not need to reveal any medical information that may make them uncomfortable; however, it is important that the answer be along the lines of, “The dog is trained to assist me.”
The service animal handler is allowed full access to public spaces and cannot be treated differently than other patrons. The handler is also entirely responsible for their animal’s behavior. The animal must be well-behaved and on task when in public spaces. If the animal is loud, aggressive, unresponsive to their handler’s commands, or creating a mess, there are no legal ramifications for asking the handler to leave and return when the animal is more focused.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR A SPECIFIC COLLECTION?
If the specimen donor identifies their animal as one needed for emotional support or personal protection, your business is not required to permit the animal to enter the premises or the collection area. However, service animals should be afforded full access with the donor.
Follow these procedures:
- A service animal’s handler and the animal must be treated like any other donor. When performing the specimen collection, the rules still can be followed with precision, even if a service animal is present.
- A collector would be wise to have the donor remove the animal’s “service animal” vest while instructing the donor to remove their jacket or any large outerwear.
- Because it is unlawful to separate a service animal and its handler, the animal is permitted to enter the restroom; however, the collector should uphold best practices during the collection by tracking the length of time the donor is in the restroom and by listening for any suspicious sounds that may indicate a specimen is being adulterated.
- The collector also can ask the service animal’s handler to show nothing is concealed on the animal that could be used to adulterate the test — but it is very important that the collector never touch a service animal without its handler’s express permission.
- If an observed collection becomes necessary, it is to be conducted the same way every other observed specimen collection is conducted; the animal simply would remain in the restroom with the collector and the donor.
- Because the service animal is to be viewed as an extension of its handler, the test should be conducted as if the two are one entity that cannot be separated. If the donor does not wish to comply with removing the animal’s vest or by confirming the animal is not concealing an adulterant, the collector can proceed with a “refusal to test” protocol.
- If a service animal is behaving in an unruly or aggressive manner, the collector may ask the donor to return to the facility at another time or find another way to complete the test.
Ultimately, service animals are intended to make life easier and as normal as possible for their handler. A specimen collection where they’re present should proceed accordingly.