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Service Dog Information
UNDERSTANDING SERVICE DOGS’ ROLES
(Misconceptions and Clarifications)
Service dogs provide invaluable assistance to their handlers. These unique working animals undergo extensive and highly specialized training to learn how to mitigate the difficulties caused by specific disabilities. From guiding the blind to alerting diabetic patients to low insulin levels and so much more, these remarkable canines are capable of numerous tasks that help make independent living possible for their handlers.
“When you have a service animal it’s like you are one. When I put my hand on his harness it’s like an extension of my arm – that’s like putting a value on your freedom. How do you say what your freedom is worth? It’s worth everything.”
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs and their handlers are afforded numerous rights. There are also rules and regulations, however, that must be met to ensure that a dog and his owner are entitled to those rights.
How the ADA Defines a Disability
ADA Service Dog Laws prohibit discrimination against disabled people with service animals in employment, public accommodations, state and local government activities, public transportation, commercial facilities, and telecommunication. In the context of the ADA, “disability” is used as a legal term as opposed to a medical one and has a specific definition:
- Under the ADA, a person with a disability is someone who has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity. This includes individuals who are regarded as having a disability even if they do not as well as those who have a record of being impaired even if they presently are not suffering from the impairment.
What Is a Service Animal?
The ADA also has a strict definition for service animals. They are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people living with disabilities”. These tasks may include things like alerting people who are deaf, guiding people who are visually impaired, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during an anxiety attack, reminding someone to take prescription medications, or protecting a person who is experiencing a seizure.
Service dogs are working animals – not pets. They must be trained to perform a task that is directly related to the handler’s disability. The ADA does not recognize dogs who solely provide emotional support or comfort as service animals.
- Service Animals: Trained to perform tasks for disabled handlers
- Facility/Therapy Animals: Trained to provide affection, comfort and love to people
- Comfort/Companion: Provide emotional support only
Where Service Dogs Are Allowed
Businesses, nonprofit organizations, and state and local governments are typically required to allow service dogs under ADA service dog laws to accompany people with disabilities in any areas that are open to the public. They must be allowed in establishments that prepare or serve food regardless of local or state health codes prohibiting animals on the premises. ADA service dog laws will always overrule local laws.
Business owners and staff are only allowed to ask two questions regarding service dogs. They may ask if the dog is a service animal that is required due to a disability and what type of work or task the dog has been trained to do. The ADA prohibits them from asking about a person’s disability. They are also not allowed to require any type of identification or certification documents for the dog (not recognized by ADA law) or medical documentation from the handler. They also may not ask that the dog demonstrate what it has been trained to do.
People with disabilities and their services are not to be isolated from other customers or patrons. They also may not be treated less favorably or be required to pay additional fees for their animals. Businesses that charge additional fees or deposits for pets – such as hotels – must waive these fees for service animals.
- Service Animals: Access rights in all public places with some exceptions: Religion institutions, private institutions, and sterile environments.
- Facility/Therapy Animals: Approved by hospitals, schools, courthouses, disaster areas, etc.
- Emotional/Support/Companion Animals: No public or private access rights. Fair Housing Act Protection and Air Carrier Access Act provide access for people with emotional/anxiety needs. Psychiatrics’ written note is required.
Requirements for Service Dog and Handler Teams
Discriminating against service dogs and their handlers is illegal. However, there are a few rules by which dogs and their handlers must abide. Under the ADA, all service dogs must be leashed, harnessed, or tethered. If, however, these devices interfere with the dog’s work or the handler’s disability makes it impossible to use them, the dog may be kept under control through voice, signal, or other controls.
If a service dog is not under control and the handler fails to act to gain to control, a business owner or staff member is permitted to ask that the animal be removed from the premises. A handler may also be asked to remove a service dog that is not housebroken, is behaving aggressively, or is otherwise posing a threat to human health and safety. If the dog must be removed for a legitimate reason, the establishment must permit the handler to obtain the services or goods they need without the animal’s presence.
Service dogs provide vital assistance for people with disabilities. They are afforded numerous rights under the ADA, but it is the handler’s responsibility to ensure that the dog is properly trained and behaves appropriately in public.
Rise in “Fake” Service Dogs
Service dogs who provide mental, emotional or physical support have made it possible for people with disabilities to live independently, but now, there are websites advertising bogus certification and/or registration for support animals. (Registration or certification is NOT required or recognized by the ADA; however, reputable training facilities can certify their highly-trained service dogs went through an intense training process and graduated with its handler).
“There’s no such thing!”
There is no uniform nationwide certification or registration process for legitimate service animals – which receive up to several years of specialized training – making it easy for people to scam a non-existent system. And the easy availability online of ‘service dog’ harnesses and vests are all too tempting for animal-owners who want company running errands and going out.
Where’s there a service, privilege or right, especially when it comes to animals, it seems there’s always people willing to bend the rules / circumvent the systems. It usually involves money and selling so-called “service dog certification” to designate animals with qualifications they don’t actually have are no exception. Needless to say, the types of service and support animals are vast and can be confusing.
We are so lucky in this society to have this term of emotional support animal and we really should designate that of the people who need them but when people are taking advantage of the system that is really hard, it’s disappointing.
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) says support animals do not have the same federal protections as service animals, and business owners may ask someone with a disability only two questions regarding their service animal.
It’s often obvious when an animal is a bona fide service dog, such as when they are guiding someone who is unable to see, is in a wheelchair or has trouble with stability or balance, but other times, disabilities aren’t evident.
Service animals must be under the control of their person AT ALL TIMES in order to be allowed to accompany their person into any establishment. This also means that service animals cannot be left alone in hotel room when their person leaves, swim in public pools, seated in restaurant’s chair or on table, etc.
- Hotels: No deposits or cleaning fees allowed UNLESS the service animals cause damages.
- Airlines: No pets or cargo fees. (If your service dog is too large you may have to purchase another seat)
- City Animal Control: May waive yearly’s license tag but not required.
- Housing: No ESA pet/service animals’ deposit or monthly’s fees are allowed.
Support our Business Retailers:
Nearly two dozen states have tightened the leash recently on pet owners illegitimately passing off their pets as service animals so they can bring them into restaurants, theaters, grocery stores and other public places.
Many states are now passing legislation bills to fine and charge a misdemeanor to pet owners who fraudulently misrepresenting their pets as service animals. (See posts from news / social media below)
“I couldn’t go into a store or an airport or even an office without seeing some disorderly four-legged creature dragging its owner around, wearing a vest that said, “service animal”.
Arizona State Senate, John Kavanagh
“I would see people in the supermarkets with animals in the shopping cart or walking around sniffing the food.”
“Business owners and restaurants don’t want to delve into whether the animal is a “service” animal – protected under the ADA or a “support” pet out of fear of being sued. Support animals are not protected under the ADA, with exceptions for those comfort veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
Exec Dir, National Disability Rights Network, Curt Decker
“It’s compounded by the confusing terminology around this” People prey upon that with the purpose of gaming the system”.
National Dir of Research and Therapy Programs at American Humane, Amy McCullough
“Just because one person felt the rules don’t apply to them. This leads businesses to pressure legislators against ADA rules, which only ends up hurting the people it was created to protect.”
Guide Dog for the Blind Puppy Raiser
“Your untrained emotional support dog just stole something valuable from a young boy. I am so upset at you.”
Elise Lalor, FB poster
“I can’t say why somebody else feels that you could just get a vest and put it on a dog. That’s not what makes it a service dog.”
Patrick Branam, father of a son with autism, Bryson, Kentucky
“It’s becoming a problem, I’ve heard a lot from service animal owners that the people with emotional support animals are kind of damaging their brand, because more and more people are saying, ‘I qualify for an emotional support animal, you need to rent housing to me,’ when they do not.”
Jim Dunnigan, Utah House Representative
“Mental health professionals are supposed to evaluate patients before declaring them in-need of an emotional support animal, but our investigation found one doctor willing to bypass that process for a fee.”
News 5 Investigator
“I would like to have my eyes back and not have a dog but we, people with disabilities, really need these dogs to make life more accessible and mobile for us.”
Councilwoman, Yolanda Avila
The issue of fake service dogs/animals transcends retail businesses and housing management has become such a problem that a number of states are now passing their own laws to combat this issue. Click on this website link to see the states that have passed ‘fake service dog/animal’ laws, a brief overview of what the penalty is, and where you can find more information on that states law:
Americans with Disabilities Act Information
The Department of Justice published revised final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for title II (State and local government services) and title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) on September 15, 2010, in the Federal Register. These requirements, or rules, clarify and refine issues that have arisen over the past 20 years and contain new, and updated, requirements, including the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards).
This publication provides guidance on the term “service animal” and the service animal provisions in the Department’s new regulations.
- Beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA.
- A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
- Generally, title II and title III entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.
How “Service Animal” Is Defined:
Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.
Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.
Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does.
Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.
Where Service Animals Are Allowed:
Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital, it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.
Service Animals Must Be Under Control:
Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.
Inquiries, Exclusions, Charges, and Other Specific Rules Related to Service Animals:
- When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work, or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
- Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
- A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.
- Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
- People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.
- If a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by himself or his service animal.
- Staff is not required to provide care or food for a service animal.
In addition to the provisions about service dogs, the Department’s revised ADA regulations have a new, separate provision about miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. (Miniature horses generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.) Entities covered by the ADA must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. The regulations set out four assessment factors to assist entities in determining whether miniature horses can be accommodated in their facility. The assessment factors are (1) whether the miniature horse is housebroken; (2) whether the miniature horse is under the owner’s control; (3) whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight; and (4) whether the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility.
For more information about the ADA, please visit our website or call our toll-free number (see below):
ADA Website: www.ADA.gov
To receive e-mail notifications when new ADA information is available: visit the ADA Website’s home page and click the link near the top of the middle column.
ADA Information Line: 1-800-514-0301 (Voice) and 1-800-514-0383 (TTY)
M-W, F 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Th 12:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time)
to speak with an ADA Specialist. All calls are confidential.
For persons with disabilities, this publication is available in alternate formats.
Duplication of this document is encouraged. July 2011
The Americans with Disabilities Act authorizes the Department of Justice (the Department) to provide technical assistance to individuals and entities that have rights or responsibilities under the Act. This document provides informal guidance to assist you in understanding the ADA and the Department’s regulations.
This guidance document is not intended to be a final agency action, has no legally binding effect, and may be rescinded or modified in the Department’s complete discretion, in accordance with applicable laws. The Department’s guidance documents, including this guidance, do not establish legally enforceable responsibilities beyond what is required by the terms of the applicable statutes, regulations, or binding judicial precedent.
Financial Assistance for Persons with Disabilities and Veterans
Financial Resources (for information only)
No endorsement is implied.
Financial Aid Resources
This site offers a list of programs by state that may offer financial assistance based on service dog status, low income, or emergency and critical need.
A pet insurance provider which offers service dog owners a 5% discount on the overall quote, which is determined by dog breed, age and location.
A pet insurance provider that recognizes the level of care service animals are given directly correlates to the cost of emergency care. Trupanion’s working dog premiums are less costly than coverage of play pets.
While not specifically offering any service dog related discounts, this company can sometimes offer more affordable prices on medications and supplements. The company also has a mobile app available on both the app store and google play store, developed by PetMed Express.
Pet Assure offers an alternative to purchasing insurance plans via a card that helps you take advantage of discounted in-house medical services and procedures provided by vet clinics signed up with their program. It is possible to refer clinics to the program if they are not already registered. This program is run off of a monthly fee, no deductibles and can be used an unlimited amount of times as long as your account is active. An added benefit is that specific pet related merchant discounts are available to Pet Assured members.
Food and Supplies:
(There is an app connected to this store, it is available via the App store under the name “Chewy – Pet Food at Prices You’ll Love” and is made by “Chewy, Inc.” It is also available on the Google Play Store by the name of “Chewy – Where Pet Lovers Shop” by “Chewy, Inc.”)
Chewy offers a wide range of pet supplies, and has excellent customer service. Shipping, when fees are applied, is more than manageable, and only a handful of states are charged a sales tax. Returns are handled with efficiency and with minimal hassle.
Main line: 1-888-316-7297
Accessibility Line: 1-844-834-7297
Pet Flow is another online retailer that offers a wide range of pet supplies, including food and prescription medications. While no discounts are provided for service dogs, users can earn $10 off their order for every person they invite to join the platform. Furthermore, Pet Flow donates a bowl of food to a pet in need for every order shipped to their customers.
Referral Link: http://ref.petflow.com/mA-LM
Ruffwear provides customers with reliable gear for winter and summer travel for active dogs. Service dog handlers and affiliate dog trainers can qualify for 40% off site prices by applying for their Pro Purchase Program.
Application can be found: https://ruffwear.com/pages/pro-purchase-program
Muttluks’ Woof Wish Program provides 50% discounts to service dog handlers for shoes and coats. Customers must email or call for an applicable code.
K9 Top Coat:
This company provides well-made coats for dogs working in extreme temperatures or who are susceptible to the cold due to thinner fur. The coats range in design from general protection from rain to full body coverage from snow and ice. K9 Top Coat does not offer any specific service dog related discounts at this time.
Darwin’s Pet Food:
Darwin’s Pet Food offers service dog handlers and accredited animal professionals discounts on all-natural raw dog food. Customers access the program by emailing customer service.
On The Go:
Julie Johnson provides well-made gear for service dog handlers. Pieces can be made to order, and fit different life styles. On The Go can also be found on the Blindmicemall.com platform.
Mutt Muffs provide ear protection for dogs working in extremely noisy environments. These muffs can also help dogs affected by airplane travel, fireworks, and sometimes thunder storms—they do not affect the dog’s ability to hear handler commands.
Emergency and First Aid Resources:
Pet First Aid by American Red Cross:
This app allows users to read up on first aid and emergency techniques as well as take quizzes on what they have learned. Videos and step by step instruction are also available for people with different learning styles. This app is free on the App Store and Google Play.
Pet Poison Helpline:
Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands: 877-416-7319.
Other Caribbean islands: 011-1-952-853-1716
A 24-hour service available in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean’s designed to assist with animal poison control. The $59 fee per case is waved for service dogs.
Knowing your Rights
National Association of Guide Dog User’s
The National Association of Guide Dog Users, (NAGDU,) is a division of the National Federation of the Blind, (NFB,) committed to bringing together guide dog users, puppy raisers, trainers, and anyone wishing to work with guides in these capacities to share access information and advocacy assistance. The NAGDU website has expanded its legislative archives to include access and protection laws from five countries, The United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and The United Kingdom. It is the hopes of this organization to expand the list of service dog related legislation in their archives to many more countries in the future. Members of NAGDU have also developed NAGDU Guide & Service Dog Advocacy Information, an application that allows users to carry the full text of the American’s with Disabilities Act, as well as all state statutes pertaining to the rights of service dogs and their handlers in their pocket. General guidance as to public access laws regarding various establishments are also included in this informational application. The app will also connect handlers with advocates who can help pursue and resolve access issues. The app is free on the App Store and is developed by National Association of Guide Dog User’s Inc.
Follow NAGDU on Twitter at @NAGDU, and join the NAGDU support group on Facebook at:
International Association of Assistance Dog Partners – Access Issues:
This resource lists the responsibilities of handlers outlined in service dog related laws when traveling, taking into account mandatory Quarantines, and medical requirements. IAAPD also serves as a huge resource to individuals using a service dog through their membership benefits, including discounts on medication and supplies, Pet Assure, and specific vets. Overall, the IAAPD is a large network of service dog support that is continuing to grow in the US and Canada.
While the American’s with Disabilities Act covers individuals’ rights to use and travel with a service dog, some companies have developed supporting policies to curb discrimination within the confines of their platform. Uber and Lyft are two popular platforms used by handlers for travel needs, that have struggled with upholding an accommodating environment for service dogs in the past. Their respective policies can be found here for reference. Please note, both platforms allow for the reporting of service dog related issues within their applications and via their websites.
Uber’s Service Animal Policy: https://accessibility.uber.com/service-animal-policy/
Lyft’s Service Animal Policy: https://help.lyft.com/hc/en-us/articles/115013080048-Service-animal-policy
The National Federation of the Blind entered into landmark settlement agreements with both rideshare companies mentioned above. The settlement required the companies to revise their policies, (listed above,) and to provide additional training for their drivers, and to terminate those drivers that knowingly or repeatedly deny rides to service dog handlers. In an effort to make sure these terms are being met, and to facilitate open communications with both platforms, the NFB asks for service dog users to fill out the following survey to keep up-to-date with customer experiences.
Making Life Easier
Where to Go:
This app is free on the App Store and Google Play Store. It provides directions to find relieving areas while traveling through airports. It also provides updates to ADA regulations regarding service animals. Where to Go is developed by Apptology.
Links to Prepare Travels:
Training Schools Links:
National Association of Guide Dog Users (Seeing Eye Dogs):
We are Here Military:
Canine Companion Independence (Deaf and Hard of Hearing):
Dogs with Wings (Service dogs, Autism Dogs, Facility Dogs, and Companion Dogs):
Psychiatric, Emotional/companion Dogs: (Contact your healthcare provider)
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