Many people are confused about what service animals are, or what rights people using service animals have under Americans with Disabilities Act. This document is intended to help businesses understand what obligations they have to customers and members of the public who have service animals under law.
1. Service animals are not pets.
Service animals are different from pets because they are trained to perform tasks to assist persons with disabilities. Service animals must be allowed to accompany their owners wherever people without service animals may enter, even if the premises do not generally allow pets.
2. There are psychiatric service animals, too.
In addition to guide dogs, seeing eye dogs, and other more commonly recognized ones, some service animals are trained to assist people with psychiatric disabilities. The DOJ guideline lists dogs that are trained to calm people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack as an example of service animals that must be accommodated.
3. Service animals do not need to be trained by professionals.
Some service animals are trained by professionals to perform highly specialized tasks and are certified by established institutions. But service animals can also be trained by their owner, and do not need to receive any certification or license to be recognized as service animals.
4. Businesses cannot require any documentation.
Under ADA, businesses are not allowed to require any documentation for service animals such as a certificate or a physician’s letter. They are not allowed to demand people with service animals to “prove” that they are service animals, or to demonstrate their ability to perform tasks.
5. Tags/harnesses marking the animal as “service animal” are optional.
Some people with service animals put a tag or harness that marks their animals as service animals in order to inform other people, but they are not required. It is entirely optional.
6. There are only two questions businesses can ask.
When it is not clear that an animal is a service animal, businesses may ask: 1. “Is this a service animal?” and 2. “What work does the animal do?” Businesses are not allowed to ask what disability the person has, or to demand a proof.
7. Businesses can expect service animal to be under the control of the owner.
People with disabilities are expected to keep their service animals under control (not barking or making a scene) and on a leash (unless it would prevent the animal from performing the task). Also, service animals must be potty-trained. Businesses can ask a person using a service animal to leave the premise if he or she cannot keep the animal under control.
8. Businesses cannot discriminate.
Businesses cannot charge extra fees for people with service animals, even if they charge extra for people with non-service pets. They cannot isolate or segregate people with service animals from other customers, or treat them less favorably.
9. Fear or allergy are not legitimate reason to exclude.
Some people are afraid of dogs or are allergic to dogs, but these are not legitimate grounds to exclude people with service animals. When appropriate, businesses may need to accommodate both customers with service animals and those with allergic reactions, for example by seating them away from each other.
10. People with service animals cannot be singled out.
When service animals cause damages, it must be treated the same way damages caused by people are treated. For example, a hotel may charge for an extra cleaning fee for a mess made by a service animal if another customer who made a similar mess is also held responsible.
This document is based on “ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Animals” issued by U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.
(Also posted in System Failure Alert!)