People with disabilities may use service animals, emotional support animals, comfort animals, or therapy animals for a number of reasons and a variety of tasks. Service animals are covered under and their use is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Emotional support, comfort, and therapy animals are often important to treatment or therapy plans, but they are not service animals under the ADA.

What is a service animal?

A service animal is an animal that has been individually trained to perform tasks or do work for a person with a disability.

What animals can be considered service animals?

Only dogs (any breed) are recognized as service animals under the ADA. However, a separate provision requires businesses to permit the use of a miniature horse when it is reasonable if the miniature horse has been individually trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability.

There are four factors for determining whether a miniature horse can be accommodated:

  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.

What tasks can a service animal perform?

Service animals can be specially trained to perform many tasks. These include but aren’t limited to:

  • Guiding people who blind
  • Alerting people who are deaf
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure
  • Reminding a person to take prescribed medications
  • Calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Where are service animals allowed?

Service animals must be allowed to go, while accompanying people with disabilities, anywhere the public is allowed to go. State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that are covered by the ADA and serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals with them.

When can service animals be denied access?

A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless it:

  1. Is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it; or,
  2. Is not housebroken.

Allergies and fear of animals are not valid reasons for denying access, removing the animal from the premises, or refusing services.

If a service animal must be legitimately removed, the person with a disability must be offered the chance to obtain or use services without the animal.

According to Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA, issued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ):

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. Nor does it overrule legitimate safety requirements. If admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited. 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.

What questions can you ask about service animals?

The tasks a service animal provides for a person must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Businesses are not allowed to ask about a person’s disability, ask for or require medical documentation, or ask for or require identification or documentation for the animal.

Only when it is not obvious what service an animal provides, businesses may ask:

  • If the animal is a service animal required because of a disability; and,
  • What work or task the service animal has been trained to perform.

Businesses cannot ask that the service animal’s ability be proven or demonstrated.

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