Definitions and Rules Concerning Service Animals

From the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Disability Rights Section:

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ADA 2010 Revised Requirements

Service Animals

The Department of Justice published revised final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for title II (State and local government services) and title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) on September 15, 2010,        in the Federal Register. These requirements, or rules, clarify and refine issues that have arisen over the past 20 years and contain new, and updated, requirements, including the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards).


This  publication provides guidance on the term “service animal” and the  service animal provisions in the Department’s new regulations.

  • Beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA.
  • A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
  • Generally, title II and title III entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.

How “Service Animal” Is Defined

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person  with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person  with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or  performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets.  The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly  related to the person’s disability. 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.

Some State and local  laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does.  Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney  general’s office.

Where Service Animals Are Allowed

Under  the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit  organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals  to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility  where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a  service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or  examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service  animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence  may compromise a sterile environment.

Service Animals Must Be Under Control

Under  the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered,  unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the  individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

Inquiries, Exclusions, Charges, and Other Specific Rules Related to Service Animals

  • 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.
  • Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals.   When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a  service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for  example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both  should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different  locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
  • A  person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal  from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler  does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not  housebroken. 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 animal’s presence.
  • Establishments  that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas  even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
  • People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated  from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or  charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals.   In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by  patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.
  • If a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that  they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage  caused by himself or his service animal.
  • Staff are not required to provide care or food for a service animal.

Miniature Horses

In  addition to the provisions about service dogs, the Department’s revised  ADA regulations have a new, separate provision about miniature horses  that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for  people with disabilities. (Miniature horses generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches  measured to the shoulders and generally weigh between 70 and 100  pounds.) Entities covered by the ADA must modify their policies to  permit miniature horses where reasonable. The regulations set out four  assessment factors to assist entities in determining whether miniature  horses can be accommodated in their facility. The assessment factors are  (1) whether the miniature horse is housebroken; (2) whether the  miniature horse is under the owner’s control; (3) whether the facility  can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight; and (4)  whether the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate  safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility.

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last updated: July 12, 2011

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