Making Heads or Tails out of ADA Service Dog Law
It is important to know the rules and regulations that allow access into public places while using your service dog.
Service dogs are working animals, not pets. A Service Dog is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the persons' disability. ADA 2011
The ADA definition of a "disability" is: A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual. A record of such an impairment. Being regarded as having such an impairment.
Major Life Activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. A major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions. Shall not apply to impairments that are transitory and minor. A transitory impairment is an impairment with an actual or expected duration of 6 months or less. ADA 2011
Emotional Support Animals provide some therapeutic benefit to a person with a mental or psychiatric disability, requiring no specific training. The mere presence of this animal mitigates the effects of the disability. ADA 2011
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. ADA 2011
Therapy Animals are pets that are used by their owner to bring comfort to others.
Pets or Companion Animals live with their owners for purposes of love, affection, and company.
Links to the DOJ/ADA websites
United States Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act
You can call the U.S. Department of Justice, for more information about ADA regulations. Their number is (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 TDD
Privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, grocery stores, taxicabs, shuttles, buses, theaters, concert halls, hospitals, medical offices, health clubs, parks, zoos, 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. People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be charged extra fees, isolated from other patrons, or treated less favorably than other patrons. Businesses that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises. ADA 2011
Frequently asked questions
What is wrong with falsely claiming your dog is a service dog?
Claiming your dog is a service dog, when in fact it is not, can be dangerous and expensive. It is like parking in a handicapped parking space, when you are not handicapped. It is against the law! You are making it more difficult for those who actually need those services.
All dog owners are held accountable for their dogs behavior, and can be charged for damages to people and property.
Even though you may think your dog is safe in public, that may not in fact be the case. An actual Service Dog has hundreds of hours of training before they are a year old. They have intentionally been exposed to situations and tested for safety.
If that isn't enough to convince you, you may be fined, lose your dog, and/or your freedom, depending on the local and state laws. There are State, Federal, and local laws that protect the rights of the disabled, and to convict those who fraudulently pretend to be disabled. This is a misdemeaner in most states.
Does my service dog have to be certified?
No, they do not. They must however be trained. You can train them yourself or have them professionally trained, but they must be, "trained to perform tasks to mitigate the handler's disability". They also must behave appropriately in public. ADA 2011
Am I required to carry documentation to use my service dog in public?
"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.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, housing, work, commercial airlines...
Can a business ever refuse service to me with my service dog?
If your dog is out of control and you do not take effective action to control it or the dog is not housebroken. You may be asked to leave. ADA 2011
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 animals present. ADA 2011
If you are disallowed public access with your service dog without cause, you may file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission in your state, and/or file a private lawsuit against the business, or agency for discrimination.
Quotes from the ADA 2011 revision
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