What is a service animal?
The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.
Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that individuals with disabilities cannot perform for themselves.
Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. However, there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities.
Some examples include:
• Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds
• Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments
• Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance
A service animal is not a pet.
What questions can someone legally ask to determine if a dog is a service animal?
In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions:
(1) Is the dog a service animal?
(2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Staff is not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.
When can service animals be excluded?
The ADA does not require covered entities to modify policies, practices, or procedures if it would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public. It does not overrule legitimate safety requirements.
In addition, if a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if it is not housebroken, that animal may be excluded.
When might a service dog’s presence fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program provided to the public?
In most settings, the presence of a service animal will not result in a fundamental alteration. However, there are some exceptions.
For example, at a boarding school, service animals could be restricted from a specific area of a dormitory reserved specifically for students with allergies to dog dander.
At a zoo, service animals can be restricted from areas where the animals on display are the natural prey or natural predators of dogs, where the presence of a dog would be disruptive, causing the displayed animals to behave aggressively or become agitated. They cannot be restricted from other areas of the zoo.
Are emotional support, therapy, comfort or companion animals considered service animals under the ADA?
These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
However, some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places. You may check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.
Are gyms, fitness centers, hotels or municipalities that have swimming pools required to allow a service animal in the pool with its handler?
No. The ADA does not override public health rules that prohibit dogs in swimming pools. However, service animals must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where the public is allowed to go.
Are service-animals-in-training considered service animals under the ADA?
No. Under the ADA, the dog must already be trained before it can be taken into public places. However, some state or local laws cover animals that are still in training.
Are stores required to allow service animals to be placed in a shopping cart?
Generally, the dog must stay on the floor, or the person must carry the dog.
For example, if a person with diabetes has a glucose alert dog, he may carry the dog in a chest pack so it can be close to his face to allow the dog to smell his breath to alert him of a change in glucose levels.
Can a person bring a service animal with them as they go through a salad bar or other self-service food lines?
Yes. Service animals must be allowed to accompany their handlers to and through self-service food lines.
Similarly, service animals may not be prohibited from communal food preparation areas, such as are commonly found in shelters or dormitories.
Can hotels assign designated rooms for guests with service animals, out of consideration for other guests?
No. A guest with a disability who uses a service animal must be provided the same opportunity to reserve any available room at the hotel as other guests without disabilities. They may not be restricted to “pet-friendly” rooms.
Can individuals with disabilities be refused access to a facility based solely on the breed of their service animal?
No. A service animal may not be excluded based on assumptions or stereotypes about the animal’s breed or how the animal might behave.
However, if a particular service animal behaves in a way that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, has a history of such behavior, or is not under the control of the handler, that animal may be excluded.
If an animal is excluded for such reasons, staff must still offer their goods or services to the person without the animal present.
Can my service dog go anywhere?
Your service dog can go anywhere that the public is allowed to go. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.
The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.
Can people bring more than one service animal into a public place?
Generally, yes. Some people with disabilities may use more than one service animal to perform different tasks. For example, a person who has a visual disability and a seizure disorder may use one service animal to assist with way-finding and another that is trained as a seizure alert dog.
Other people may need two service animals for the same task, such as a person who needs two dogs to assist him or her with stability when walking.
Staff may ask the two permissible questions about each of the dogs. If both dogs can be accommodated, both should be allowed in. In some circumstances, however, it may not be possible to accommodate more than one service animal.
For example, in a crowded small restaurant, only one dog may be able to fit under the table. The only other place for the second dog would be in the aisle, which would block the space between tables. In this case, staff may request that one of the dogs be left outside.
Do apartments, mobile home parks and other residential properties have to comply with the ADA?
The ADA applies to housing programs administered by state and local governments, such as public housing authorities, and by places of public accommodation, such as public and private universities.
In addition, the Fair Housing Act applies to virtually all types of housing, both public and private, including housing covered by the ADA. Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are obligated to permit, as a reasonable accommodation, the use of animals that work, provide assistance or perform tasks that benefit persons with disabilities.
For information about these Fair Housing Act requirements See HUD’s Notice on Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-funded Programs.
Do commercial airlines have to comply with the ADA?
No. The Air Carrier Access Act is the Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities in air travel.
For information or to file a complaint, contact the U.S. Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division, at 202-366-2220.
Does a hospital have to allow an in-patient with a disability to keep a service animal in his or her room?
Generally, yes. Service animals must be allowed in patient rooms and anywhere else in the hospital the public and patients are allowed to go. They cannot be excluded on the grounds that staff can provide the same services.
Does the ADA require that service animals be certified as service animals?
No. Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry.
There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.
If a municipality has an ordinance that bans certain dog breeds, does the ban apply to service animals?
No. Municipalities that prohibit specific breeds of dogs must make an exception for a service animal of a prohibited breed, unless the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
Under the “direct threat” provisions of the ADA, local jurisdictions need to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a particular service animal can be excluded based on that particular animal’s actual behavior or history, but they may not exclude a service animal because of fears or generalizations about how an animal or breed might behave.
It is important to note that breed restrictions differ significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In fact, some jurisdictions have no breed restrictions.
If someone’s dog calms them when having an anxiety attack, does this qualify it as a service animal?
It depends. The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals.
If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, it would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, it would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.
Must a service animal be allowed to ride in an ambulance with its handler?
Generally, yes. However, if the space in the ambulance is crowded and the dog’s presence would interfere with the emergency medical staff’s ability to treat the patient, staff should make other arrangements to have the dog transported to the hospital.
My city / college offers a voluntary registry program for people with disabilities who use service animals and provides a special tag identifying the dogs as service animals. Is this legal under the ADA?
Yes! Colleges and other entities, such as local governments, may offer voluntary registries. Many communities maintain a voluntary registry that serves a public purpose, for example, to ensure that emergency staff members know to look for service animals during an emergency evacuation process.
Some offer a benefit, such as a reduced dog license fee, for individuals who register their service animals. Registries for purposes like this are permitted under the ADA. An entity may not, however, require that a dog be registered as a service animal as a condition of being permitted in public places.
This would be a violation of the ADA.
My city requires all dogs to be vaccinated. Does this apply to my service animal?
Yes. Individuals who have service animals are not exempt from: Local animal control and public health requirements.
My city requires me to register my dog as a service animal. Is this legal under the ADA?
No. Mandatory registration of service animals is not permissible under the ADA. However, as stated above, service animals are subject to the same licensing and vaccination rules that are applied to all dogs.
What can my staff do when a service animal is being disruptive?
If a service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it,
staff may request that the animal be removed from the premises.
What does “do work or perform tasks” mean?
A person who has epilepsy may have a dog that alerts and is trained to respond to the onset of a seizure and help the person remain safe during the seizure. A person in a wheelchair may require the assistance of a dog to retrieve items. A person who has difficulty with walking or balance may need a dog to help support them.
What does under control mean? Do service animals have to be on a leash? Do they have to be quiet and not bark?
The ADA requires that service animals be under the control of the handler at all times. In most instances, the handler will be the individual with a disability or a third party who accompanies the individual with a disability.
In the school (K-12) context and in similar settings, the school or similar entity may need to provide some assistance to enable a particular student to handle his or her service animal. The service animal must be harnessed, leashed or tethered while in public places unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the person’s disability prevents use of these devices. In that case, the person must use voice, signal, or other effective means to maintain control of the animal.
For example, a person who uses a wheelchair may use a long, retractable leash to allow her service animal to pick up or retrieve items.
She may not allow the dog to wander away from her and must maintain control of the dog, even if it is retrieving an item at a distance from her. Or, a returning veteran who has PTSD and has great difficulty entering unfamiliar spaces may have a dog that is trained to enter a space, check to see that no threats are there, and come back and signal that it is safe to enter. The dog must be off leash to do its job, but may be leashed at other times.
Under control also means that a service animal should not be allowed to bark repeatedly in a lecture hall, theater, library, or other quiet place. However, if a dog barks just once, or barks because someone has provoked it, this would not mean that the dog is out of control.
What happens if a person thinks a covered entity’s staff has discriminated against him or her?
Individuals who believe that they have been illegally denied access or service because they use service animals may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. Individuals also have the right to file a private lawsuit charging the entity with discrimination under the ADA.
For more information about the ADA, please visit our website or call our toll-free number.
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What happens if a patient who uses a service animal is admitted to the hospital and is unable to care for or supervise their animal?
If the patient is not able to care for the service animal, the patient can make arrangements for a family member or friend to come to the hospital to provide these services. It is always preferable that the service animal and its handler not be separated, or to keep the dog during the hospitalization.
If the patient is unable to care for the dog and is unable to arrange for someone else to care for the dog, the hospital may place the dog in a boarding facility until the patient is released, or make other appropriate arrangements.
However, the hospital must give the patient the opportunity to make arrangements for the dog’s care before taking such steps.
Who is responsible for the care and supervision of a service animal?
The handler is responsible for caring for and supervising the service animal, including:
• Cleaning up after the dog
• Using only authorized pet relief areas
• Veterinary care
Covered entities are not obligated to supervise or otherwise care for a service animal.
What is a diabetic alert dog?
Diabetic alert dogs (also called hypo alert dogs) are trained to alert their owners in advance of low (hypoglycemia) or high (hyperglycemia) blood sugar events before they become dangerous. Their owners can take steps to return their blood sugar to normal. The dogs are trained to accompany their owners wherever they travel.
What’s the difference between a seizure alert dog and a seizure response dog?
Both of these types of service dogs help people with seizures. A seizure alert dog lets a person know that a seizure is imminent, giving them time to prepare by getting to a safe place, putting on protective head gear and notifying friends and family that a seizure is about to occur. The seizure response dog helps keep a person safe both during and after the health event, comforting them as they come out of the postical phase and minimizing confusion afterwards.
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Can service animals be any breed of dog?
Yes. The ADA does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals.
Do service animals have to wear a vest or patch or special harness identifying them as service animals?
No. The ADA does not require service animals to wear:
• A vest
• ID tag
• Specific harness
Does the ADA require service animals to be professionally trained?
No. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves, but are not required to use a professional service dog training program.
Are hotel guests allowed to leave their service animals in their hotel room when they leave the hotel?
No. The dog must be under the handler’s control at all times.
Can a dog really detect a seizure?
Despite the inability to pinpoint why and how seizure alert dogs do what they do, many patients and parents of epileptics want one of their own, if for no other reason other than to have an added measure of security.
Thanks in part to the controversy spurred by the misdiagnosed cases of PNES, however, many medical professionals believe that more stringent requirements should be put in place regarding to whom these dogs are given and sold.
Mainly, experts believe that a person who receives a seizure response dog should be a clearly diagnosed epileptic, with PNES ruled out ahead of time. It takes about two years and could cost more than $10,000 to train seizure alert & response dogs.
Although many medical professionals do not believe PNES sufferers should have a dog to respond to seizures, doctors do recognize that a dog or pet can provide emotional support and improve patients’ quality of life.
Epileptics who are fortunate enough to obtain one of these dogs (which insurance usually doesn’t cover) are carefully screened to ensure that they can provide the canine with the appropriate care and attention.
Owners also must be willing to make the financial commitment, including initial cost of the dog, veterinary bills and other miscellaneous costs. In addition, the dogs need continuous training to keep their skills sharp.
Patients and their families to remember that even though their dogs are amazing, they’re still fallible. Scientists hope that more studies will be done to determine conclusively how and why some dogs have this ability, so that more epileptics will benefit from their abilities in the future. -Alia Hoyt “Can a dog really predict an epileptic seizure?” 5 May 2008.
Once a patient acquires a seizure alert or response dog, medical professionals caution patients and their families to remember that even though their dogs are amazing, they’re still fallible. Scientists hope that more studies will be done to determine conclusively how and why some dogs have this ability, so that more epileptics will benefit from their abilities in the future. -Alia Hoyt “Can a dog really predict an epileptic seizure?” 5 May 2008.
Commonly asked questions about service dogs in places of businesses. What are your rights?
Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?
No. The care or supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of his or her owner.
You are not required to provide care or food or a special location for the animal.
Can I charge a maintenance or cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals into my business?
No. Neither a deposit nor a surcharge may be imposed on an individual with a disability as a condition to allowing a service animal to accompany them.
However, a public accommodation may charge its customers with disabilities if a service animal causes damage so long as it is the regular practice of the entity to charge non-disabled customers for the same types of damages.
For example, a hotel can charge a guest with a disability for the cost of repairing or cleaning furniture damaged by a service animal.
How do I contact the ADA?
If you have further questions about service animals or other requirements of the ADA, you may call the U.S. Department of Justice’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TDD).
I have always had a clearly posted “no pets” policy at my establishment. Do I still have to allow service animals in?
Yes. A service animal is not a pet. The ADA requires you to modify your “no pets” policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability.
This does not mean you must abandon your “no pets” policy altogether but simply that you must make an exception to your general rule for service animals.
I operate a private taxicab and I don’t want animals in my taxi; they smell, shed hair and sometimes have “accidents.” Am I violating the ADA if I refuse to pick up someone with a service animal?
Yes. Taxicab companies may not refuse to provide services to individuals with disabilities.
Private taxicab companies are also prohibited from charging higher fares or fees for transporting individuals with disabilities and their service animals than they charge to other persons for the same or equivalent service.
My county health department has told me that only a guide dog has to be admitted. If I follow those regulations, am I violating the ADA?
Yes, Entities may not refuse to admit any other type of service dogs on the basis of local health department regulations or other state or local laws.
The ADA provides greater protection for individuals with disabilities and so it takes priority over the local or state laws or regulations.
What are the ADA laws that apply to my business?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.
The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.
What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?
You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be excluded.
You may not make assumptions based on your past experience with other animals. Each situation must be considered individually.
Although a public accommodation may exclude any service animal that is out of control, it should give the individual with a disability who uses the service animal the option of continuing to enjoy its goods and services without having the service animal on the premises.
What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?
The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers.