Service Animal Rights: Access to Public Places & Other Settings

October 2013Articles The Legal Intelligencer - Animal Law & Rights Special Edition

Service animals help make the world accessible to people with disabilities. While traditionally the term “service animal” referred to seeing-eye dogs, service animals are increasingly being used to assist people with hearing impairments, seizure disorders, and motor impairments, among other uses. Additionally, emotional support animals are being used to help alleviate certain mental health conditions. The proliferation in the use of service animals raises important issues regarding rights to use service animals in public places and other settings. Different federal, state, and local laws govern the use of service animals in different settings with different definitions of what constitutes a service animal.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) governs access to state and local government services, including public transportation. Title III of the ADA governs public accommodations and commercial facilities, to include hotels, restaurants, and other privately-owned places. Title II and III regulations define a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” The regulations specifically exclude emotional support animals unless they have been trained to reduce an individual’s impulsive or destructive behavior. The ADA requires that service animals be allowed to accompany individuals with disabilities in all areas of public access. A title II or III entity may not ask about the nature or extent of a person’s disability, but if not readily apparent, may ask if the animals is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. Some states have programs to certify service animals. A title II or III entity may not, however, require documentary proof that the animal has been certified; nor may it require an individual with a disability to pay a surcharge applicable to people with pets.

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