26 Frequently Asked Questions about the ADA and Service Animals

According to ADA.gov website, the Department of Justice receives many questions about how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to service animals.

Many people with disabilities use a service animal in order to participate more fully in everyday life or use them for assistance as part of their treatment plans. Service Dogs can be trained to perform many important tasks to assist people with disabilities. For example, they can provide stability for a person who has difficulty walking, pick up items for a person who uses a wheelchair, or alert a person who has hearing loss when someone is approaching from behind.


The ADA requires State and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations (covered entities) that provide goods or services to the public to make "reasonable modifications" in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. Service animal rules fall under this category. Based on the current guidelines many entities that have a "no pets" policy generally must modify the policy to allow service animals into their facilities.


This article will provide some guidance on the most frequently asked questions from the ADA's service animal provisions with answers sourced from their website. This should be read in conjunction with the publication ADA Revised Requirements: Service Animals to ensure you understand all provisions in the policy and how they might apply to you or your establishment.


1. What is a service animal?

Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability.


2. What does "do work or perform tasks" mean?

The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.


3. Are emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals considered service animals under the ADA?

No. 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.


4. 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, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog's mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.


5. Does the ADA require service animals to be professionally trained?

No, it is not legally required. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program. However, it is often advised if the person does not have the skills necessary to train the dog properly. 6. 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.


7. What questions can a covered entity's employees 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 required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are 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.


8. 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, or specific harness. It may be useful to help others in public identify that your animal is a service animal, but it is not legally required.


9. Who is responsible for the care and supervision of a service animal?

The handler is responsible for caring for and supervising the service animal, which includes toileting, feeding, and grooming and veterinary care. Covered entities are not obligated to supervise or otherwise care for a service animal.


10. 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.


11. 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.


12. Can hotels charge a cleaning fee for guests who have service animals?

No. Hotels are not permitted to charge guests for cleaning the hair or dander shed by a service animal. However, if a guest's service animal causes damages to a guest room, a hotel is permitted to charge the same fee for damages as charged to other guests.


13. 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 (See Question 7) 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.


14. 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.


15. 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