Pets can often be of great service to disabled individuals. Some pets are designated as service animals to detect onset of seizures for people with epilepsy or assist the deaf and blind in navigating a hearing and seeing world. Others can relieve stress and anxiety or simply provide emotional comfort and companionship to those with mental health issues. Having a pet can help ease the burden of a disability and the designation of a pet as a service animal or emotional support animal often reinforces a disability claim as it indicates a need for accommodation. The need for a service animal in the workplace must be considered under SSR 16-3p.
However, there can be a downside to pet ownership for individuals filing for disability benefits with Social Security Administration (SSA). While the SSA has no regulation that prohibits disability claimants from owning pets, adjudicators often look beyond the medical evidence to determine a claimant’s residual functional capacity. When filing a claim, SSA will have you fill out a function report asking if you take care of pets or other animals and whether anyone helps you. Your answers may spark further questions to an adjudicator. If you are able to walk your dog, could you work as an animal caretaker? If you can bend at the waist to clean a cat litter box, could you handle a job with occasional stooping? Can you lift a 20-pound bag of cat litter or dog food? If so, you may be capable of work at a light residual functional capacity.
While you must be truthful in all your communications with SSA, the way you respond to these inquiries could have significant impact on the outcome of the case. An experienced attorney or legal representative should not answer these questions for you but can assist and advise you on the process along the way.