HIV Positive People & Service Dogs

Question

My primary care provider and psychologist both specialize in treatment and therapy of people who are HIV positive. They work together in my treatment. I am HIV positive and suffer from severe anxiety and secondary post traumatic stress, for which my primary care provider and psychologist have been treating me for sometime with medication and psychotherapy. They both feel that I would benefit from the use of a service dog to assist me in making sure I take my HIV and other medications for treatment of my anxiety every day and to also help increase and ease my mobility by reducing my anxiety in public places. Does a person who is HIV positive qualify under the ADA as disabled and is a person who is HIV positive eligible to have a service dog?

Answer

Dear Writer,

Yes, both HIV and AIDS are qualified "disabilities" under the Americans with Disabilities Act and as such, your status qualifies you for protection under the federal law. Since your doctors have already demonstrated how and why a dog would be medically beneficial with respect to treatment of your anxiety, your dog could indeed be considered a "companion animal" or "service animal."

In general, to have your dog be considered a "service animal" you must demonstrate its medical necessity. As above, your doctors already provided sufficient justification for this categorization. So if you want to go out in public and private establishments with your service dog, you should carry with you a letter from your physicians documenting your medical need for the animal. Certainly, your doctor need not discuss your HIV status if you do not wish to disclose. Last, the ADA does not require that a service animal be certified as such. However it is still a very good idea to bring the doctor's letter with you. If you care to look into certification options, I advise you to check with a respected veterinarian who will know where to direct you.

In closing, I must say how very pleased I am to see your doctors make this thoughtful suggestion. In my experience as an attorney, I have represented many wonderful people with disabilities whose service dogs were essential to equal enjoyment of public accommodations. Companion animals not only provide unconditional support and affection, but they foster trust and loyalty. I've also seen clients benefit tremendously from the overall health and fitness improvements gained from regular walking and running with their service dogs. Basically, dogs rule! Good luck to you.