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Service Animals



Many people have probably read about dogs assisting blind Germany service members years ago..that’s when it all started. And of course, most of us have probably read about the famous Morristown, New Jersey Seeing Eye, an organization that breeds, trains and provides seeing eye dogs to human individuals.

In addition to seeing eye dogs, there are also dogs trained to assist deaf individuals and individuals with various disabilities. We learned of one person who suffered with disabling migraine headaches whose dog actually alerts her to take her medications before the migraine totally take over her life and she cannot function. There are psychiatric service dogs - another type not so well known about. The latest we have heard of is dogs assisting people with autism. Those of us who have lived with dogs, realize the communication that occurs between a human and their canine companion. Even medical doctors are becoming more and more aware of what dogs can do for their patients.

And do not think that service animals are only dogs. If you were to conduct research on the internet, you would quickly learn that other types of animals are also used in the field…even a duck and a miniature horse!

There are naysayers who do not accept certain disabilities because they do not see an actual disability. A person with a “hidden or non visible” disability would be a person with epilepsy, for instance. Then there are persons with psychiatric disabilities. Please keep in mind, just because YOU can’t see a disability, does not mean the person is not disabled!



Let’s begin our discussion in this area based upon who you are.

Senario # 1 - Let’s say you are working in a clothing store and you observe a person accompanied by a dog wearing a vest that says “service animal”. Now you are curious, right? Can you just go and start asking questions? Do they have to answer you?

Senario # 2 – Now you are in a restaurant and you observe a person accompanied by a dog wearing a vest that says “service animal”. Again, you are curious. You thought the health codes did not allow animals in restaurants right? Do you march up to the booth and begin grilling the person with the service animal? What if you are the restaurant manager? How do you handle this?

Senario # 3 – Now you are in a food store doing your weekly food shopping and you see a small dog wearing a service animal vest riding in the shopping cart. You are a dog lover. Do you go up to the dog and start talking to it and petting it? What do you do if you are the food store manager?

The following are excerpts from the U.S. Department of Justice website which we hope will clarify some of your questions:


1. Q: What are the laws that apply to my business?
A: 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.

2. Q: What is a service animal?
A: 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 the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. 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. But 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.

3. Q: How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?
A: Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. However, an individual who is going to a restaurant or theater is not likely to be carrying documentation of his or her medical condition or disability. Therefore, such documentation generally may not be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal. Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

4. Q: What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?
A: 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.

5. Q: I have always had a clearly posted "no pets" policy at my establishment. Do I still have to allow service animals in?
A: 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.

6. Q: 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?
A: Yes, if you refuse to admit any other type of service animal 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.

7. Q: Can I charge a maintenance or cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals into my business?
A: 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 the individual with a disability, even if deposits are routinely required for pets. 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 if it is the hotel's policy to charge when non-disabled guests cause such damage.

8. Q: 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?
A: 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.

9. Q: Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?
A: 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.

10. Q: What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?
A: 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, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave 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.

11. Q: Can I exclude an animal that doesn't really seem dangerous but is disruptive to my business?
A: There may be a few circumstances when a public accommodation is not required to accommodate a service animal--that is, when doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business. Generally, this is not likely to occur in restaurants, hotels, retail stores, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities. But when it does, for example, when a dog barks during a movie, the animal can be excluded.

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).
July 1996 Reproduction of this document is encouraged.


updated August 20, 2007



Copyright © 2007 by Kathleen M. Dorry. All rights reserved.

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