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Service DogWhat You Need to Know About Service Animals

In recent years service animals have gained in both popularity and the number of disabilities they assist with and are, therefore, mixing in public much more. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a service animal is defined as an animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. The animal is not a pet. Instead it has been trained to meet a need caused by a specific disability. The ADA only allows for dogs to be declared service animals for the basis of admittance to a business in all instances and miniature horses in limited circumstances. Animals whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.


Service dogs must be allowed to go anywhere the normal public goes without restriction unless there are mitigating circumstances and the ADA uses a hospital operating room as an example circumstance. A business cannot charge a fee to allow a service animal entrance, even if a fee is charged to non-service animals. According to the law, the only other times a service animal can be barred entrance to a business is if the dog is not housebroken or the handler does not have control of the animal and the animal’s behavior is posing a direct threat to the health or safety of others. Although the animal can be banned, the owner must be provided the option of continuing to enjoy the business’ goods or services without the animal present.

Horses may be used as a service animal when circumstances prevent the use of a dog, such as if the handler is allergic to dogs. Most service horses are miniature horses and are no bigger than a medium to large dog. People with mobility disabilities appreciate the strength of a horse that can be leaned on or used for pulling a wheelchair. Horses can be house-broken and therefore must be allowed entrance to a business, just as a dog unless the handler does not have the horse under control, the facility cannot accommodate the horse’s type, size or weight, or the horse’s presence will compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of the facility.

A business owner is only allowed to ask the handler if the animal is a ‘service animal required because of a disability?’ and ‘what task the animal is trained to perform?’ The business owner cannot legally inquire as to the nature of the disability or ask any other personal questions. They also cannot ask for or bar admittance because the handler does not have service animal registration papers. A handler cannot be treated any different from any other patron. If in the event another patron is scared of or is allergic to animals, it may be a good idea for the business owner or manager to make arrangements for the other patron by allowing them to move to another location in the room.

As service animals become more prevalent, it is wise for business owners to become acquainted with this aspect of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


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