Disability Law

Is Boa Constrictor a Service Animal? Proposed DOJ Standard Says No

  • Print.

Daniel Greene says his almost 5-foot boa constrictor is a service snake. The reptile, who rides around town on Greene’s neck, helps alert the 46-year-old Washington man to impending seizures by squeezing him more tightly when he’s about to have one, Greene tells the Seattle Times. This gives him time to take his anti-seizure medication or look for a safer place to have a seizure, if he can’t prevent it.

But a controversial attempt by the U.S. Department of Justice to define what is—and isn’t—a service animal would, at last report, put Greene’s snake on the banned list, as far as entering many business establishments under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act is concerned. Proposed revisions published in the Federal Register (PDF) would exclude not only snakes and other reptiles, but rabbits, farm animals, amphibians, ferrets, rodents and wild animals including monkeys born in captivity, according to the newspaper. They would also eliminate from the definition of service animal creatures who simply provide emotional support, comfort or companionship.

After some 4,500 people flooded the DOJ with comments about the proposal, the Obama administration delayed implementation until its new civil rights team was on board. At this point, the revised ADA regulations are expected by the end of the year.

Service animals provide needed services to those with a variety of disabilities, and some, such as guide dogs for the blind, are generally recognized as standard helpmates. However, there is no program for officially certifying service animals and the more unusual ones, such as hedgehogs, iguanas and snakes, can be startling to the uninitiated, according to the Times.

The U.S. Department of Transportation specifically prohibits spiders from flying in aircraft cabins and that fact “means somewhere along the line, somebody brought … a service spider on the aircraft,” writes editor Candy Harrington of Emerging Horizons, a magazine for disabled travelers, in a blog post.

Although sympathetic to the service animal cause, “I have to say in all honesty, that if the person seated next to me whipped out a service spider, I would be teaching that arachnid to play dead … faster than the airlines can raise their excess-baggage charges,” she notes.

Additional related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Definition of ‘Service Animal’ a Hot Issue in Pet-Friendly Portland, Ore.”

U.S. Dept. of Justice: “Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.