ADA Service Animal Laws

Here are the laws from the ADA’s website, paraphrased and also cited at the bottom for the credit to the original Authors of the booklet. Service animals and emotional support animals may be used by persons with disabilities of a wide variety for a plethora of reasons. The content below is a compilation of how major Federal civil rights laws protect and govern those individuals with disabilities who may require a service animal. Following up with your state and county laws will often provide a better depiction of what is defined as a service animal where you are located. The following information is provided as a guide to the access rights regarding service animals and the guidelines and rules that apply to those rights.

1. Service Animal Definition

The following are definitions described in Title II and Title III of the ADA:

“A service animal means 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. Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button.

Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals either. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. It does not matter if a person has a note from a doctor that states that the person has a disability and needs to have the animal for emotional support. A doctor’s letter does not turn an animal into a service animal.

Examples of animals that fit the ADA’s definition of “service animal” because they have been specifically trained to perform a task for the person with a disability:

· Guide Dog or Seeing Eye® Dog1 is a carefully trained dog that serves as a travel tool for persons who have severe visual impairments or are blind.

· Hearing or Signal Dog is a dog that has been trained to alert a person who has a significant hearing loss or is deaf when a sound occurs, such as a knock on the door.

· Psychiatric Service Dog is a dog that has been trained to perform tasks that assist individuals with disabilities to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and lessen their effects. Tasks performed by psychiatric service animals may include reminding the handler to take medicine, providing safety checks or room searches, or turning on lights for persons with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, interrupting self-mutilation by persons with dissociative identity disorders, and keeping disoriented individuals from danger.

· SSigDOG (sensory signal dogs or social signal dog) is a dog trained to assist a person with autism. The dog alerts the handler to distracting repetitive movements common among those with autism, allowing the person to stop the movement (e.g., hand flapping).

· Seizure Response Dog is a dog trained to assist a person with a seizure disorder. How the dog serves the person depends on the person’s needs. The dog may stand guard over the person during a seizure or the dog may go for help. A few dogs have learned to predict a seizure and warn the person in advance to sit down or move to a safe place.

Under Title II and III of the ADA, service animals are limited to dogs. However, entities must make reasonable modifications in policies to allow individuals with disabilities to use miniature horses if they have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities.”

2. Other Support or Therapy Animals

Emotional Support Animal: Although many medical professionals have been turning to emotional support animals as a treatment plan to aid in psychiatric disabilities, (including loneliness, phobias, anxiety, depression, and other related conditions) by providing companionship and comfort to the animal’s owner, these animals often do not receive specialized training to aid the owner with skilled tasks. These animals are NOT considered service animals by the ADA, and are not protected by the laws outlined for service animals. Emotional support animals ARE however protected as reasonable accommodations for housing and air travel, but most of the time additional documentation from a physician may be required.

Therapy Animal:  Therapy animals have been used in clinical settings such as nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and special education centers for years. Some states may have laws defining a therapy animal, but they are not considered a service animal or an emotional support animal and are not protected by the federal laws that allow the use of a service animal. Therapy animals typically serve a group of individuals to provide comfort and happiness, and do not aid a singular handler with a disability. They aid in the improvement of  “physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning” of a variety of people and patients. 


3. Responsibilities of a Handler

A service dog is protected by federal laws to be allowed access to public places such as stores, restaurants, theatres, etc. (anywhere it’s handler is allowed access to). However, there are some rules and behavior guidelines the handler must follow. The laws not only protect the handler and service animal from being denied access to those places, but also protects business owners from unruly service animals and/or “fraudulent” service animals. A business owner has the right to deny access to a service animal and handler team if they pose a direct threat to the health and/or safety to the establishment’s patrons or display poor or unacceptable behaviors. Below is a list of basic rules that must be followed in order to maintain access rights:

  • The ADA requires the service animal to be under the complete control of it’s handler. This could be achieved through the use of a leash, harness, or other tether mechanism.  However, in cases where either the handler is unable to hold a tether because of a disability or its use would interfere with the service animal’s safe, effective performance of work or tasks, the service animal must be under the handler’s control by some other means, such as voice control.
  • The service animal MUST be housebroken- urinating or defecating in public places that are not appropriate would be grounds for removal of the team from the establishment.
  • The service animal must be vaccinated and licensed according to local state and county laws. Some counties will waive the fee of licensing under certain circumstances for service animals.
  • The handler is responsible for the care of the service animal’s needs. This means they are solely responsible for the feeding, watering and cleaning up after the service animal in an establishment.

Here are some basic guidelines to follow for the proper behavior of a service animal:

  • Follow the “4 on the floor” rule. For example: no jumping, standing up on hind legs, or being placed in shopping carts.
  • Keep a quiet profile. In some cases, a service dog may be trained to bark for an alert, which is perfectly acceptable. However, it is unacceptable for the dog to uncontrollably bark, growl or whine while in an establishment.
  • Maintain control of the service animal at all times. Most service animals are trained to stay close to its handler (i.e. under a chair, bench or table when the handler is sitting, next to or in front of the handler in a “sit” or “down” when the handler is standing stationary). Allowing the service animal to run around or away from it’s handler is unacceptable.

Another thing to note is the size of the service animal. In some circumstances, a service animal may need to maintain contact or closeness to the handler to detect an alert. In this case, a smaller service animal may be held by the handler instead of walked.

4. Handler’s Rights of Access

The following section was copy/pasted from the ADA’s website that is cited at the end of this page.

a) Public Facilities and Accommodations

Titles II and III of the ADA makes it clear that service animals are allowed in public facilities and accommodations. A service animal must be allowed to accompany the handler to any place in the building or facility where members of the public, program participants, customers, or clients are allowed. Even if the business or public program has a “no pets” policy, it may not deny entry to a person with a service animal. Service animals are not pets. So, although a “no pets” policy is perfectly legal, it does not allow a business to exclude service animals.

When a person with a service animal enters a public facility or place of public accommodation, the person cannot be asked about the nature or extent of his disability. Only two questions may be asked:

1. Is the animal required because of a disability?

2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

These questions should not be asked, however, if the animal’s service tasks are obvious. For example, the questions may not be asked if the dog is observed guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision, pulling a person’s wheelchair, or providing assistance with stability or balance to an individual with an observable mobility disability.

A public accommodation or facility is not allowed to ask for documentation or proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. Local laws that prohibit specific breeds of dogs do not apply to service animals.

A place of public accommodation or public entity may not ask an individual with a disability to pay a surcharge, even if people accompanied by pets are required to pay fees. Entities cannot require anything of people with service animals that they do not require of individuals in general, with or without pets. If a public accommodation normally charges individuals for the damage they cause, an individual with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal.

b) Employment

Laws prohibit employment discrimination because of a disability. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation. Allowing an individual with a disability to have a service animal or an emotional support animal accompany them to work may be considered an accommodation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the employment provisions of the ADA (Title I), does not have a specific regulation on service animals. In the case of a service animal or an emotional support animal, if the disability is not obvious and/or the reason the animal is needed is not clear, an employer may request documentation to establish the existence of a disability and how the animal helps the individual perform his or her job.

Documentation might include a detailed description of how the animal would help the employee in performing job tasks and how the animal is trained to behave in the workplace.  A person seeking such an accommodation may suggest that the employer permit the animal to accompany them to work on a trial basis.

Both service and emotional support animals may be excluded from the workplace if they pose either an undue hardship or a direct threat in the workplace.

c) Housing

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects a person with a disability from discrimination in obtaining housing. Under this law, a landlord or homeowner’s association must provide reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities so that they have an equal opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling. Emotional support animals that do not qualify as service animals under the ADA may nevertheless qualify as reasonable accommodations under the FHA. In cases when a person with a disability uses a service animal or an emotional support animal, a reasonable accommodation may include waiving a no-pet rule or a pet deposit. This animal is not considered a pet.

A landlord or homeowner’s association may not ask a housing applicant about the existence, nature, and extent of his or her disability. However, an individual with a disability who requests a reasonable accommodation may be asked to provide documentation so that the landlord or homeowner’s association can properly review the accommodation request. They can ask a person to certify, in writing, (1) that the tenant or a member of his or her family is a person with a disability; (2) the need for the animal to assist the person with that specific disability; and (3) that the animal actually assists the person with a disability.  It is important to keep in mind that the ADA may apply in the housing context as well, for example with student housing. Where the ADA applies, requiring documentation or certification would not be permitted with regard to an animal that qualifies as a “service animal.”

d) Education

Service animals in public schools (K-12) – The ADA permits a student with a disability who uses a service animal to have the animal at school.  In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act allow a student to use an animal that does not meet the ADA definition of a service animal if that student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 team decides the animal is necessary for the student to receive a free and appropriate education.  Where the ADA applies, however, schools should be mindful that the use of a service animal is a right that is not dependent upon the decision of an IEP or Section 504 team.

Emotional support animals, therapy animals, and companion animals are seldom allowed to accompany students in public schools. Indeed, the ADA does not contemplate the use of animals other than those meeting the definition of “service animal.”  Ultimately, the determination whether a student may utilize an animal other than a service animal should be made on a case-by-case basis by the IEP or Section 504 team.

Service animals in postsecondary education settings – Under the ADA, colleges and universities must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility that are open to the public or to students. Colleges and universities may have a policy asking students who use service animals to contact the school’s Disability Services Coordinator to register as a student with a disability. Higher education institutions may not require any documentation about the training or certification of a service animal. They may, however, require proof that a service animal has any vaccinations required by state or local laws that apply to all animals.

e) Transportation

A person traveling with a service animal cannot be denied access to transportation, even if there is a “no pets” policy. In addition, the person with a service animal cannot be forced to sit in a particular spot; no additional fees can be charged because the person uses a service animal; and the customer does not have to provide advance notice that s/he will be traveling with a service animal.

The laws apply to both public and private transportation providers and include subways, fixed-route buses, Paratransit, rail, light-rail, taxicabs, shuttles and limousine services.

f) Air Travel

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) requires airlines to allow service animals and emotional support animals to accompany their handlers in the cabin of the aircraft.

Service animals – For evidence that an animal is a service animal, air carriers may ask to see identification cards, written documentation, presence of harnesses or tags, or ask for verbal assurances from the individual with a disability using the animal. If airline personnel are uncertain that an animal is a service animal, they may ask one of the following:

1. What tasks or functions does your animal perform for you?

2. What has your animal been trained to do for you?

3. Would you describe how the animal performs this task for you?

Emotional support and psychiatric service animals – Individuals who travel with emotional support animals or psychiatric service animals may need to provide specific documentation to establish that they have a disability and the reason the animal must travel with them. Individuals who wish to travel with their emotional support or psychiatric animals should contact the airline ahead of time to find out what kind of documentation is required.

Examples of documentation that may be requested by the airline: Current documentation (not more than one year old) on letterhead from a licensed mental health professional stating (1) the passenger has a mental health-related disability listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV); (2) having the animal accompany the passenger is necessary to the passenger’s mental health or treatment; (3) the individual providing the assessment of the passenger is a licensed mental health professional and the passenger is under his or her professional care; and (4) the date and type of the mental health professional’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued. This documentation may be required as a condition of permitting the animal to accompany the passenger in the cabin.

Other animals – According to the ACAA, airlines are not required otherwise to carry animals of any kind either in the cabin or in the cargo hold. Airlines are free to adopt any policy they choose regarding the carriage of pets and other animals (for example, search and rescue dogs) provided that they comply with other applicable requirements (for example, the Animal Welfare Act).

Animals such as miniature horses, pigs, and monkeys may be considered service animals. A carrier must decide on a case-by-case basis according to factors such as the animal’s size and weight; state and foreign country restrictions; whether or not the animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; or cause a fundamental alteration in the cabin service. Individuals should contact the airlines ahead of travel to find out what is permitted.

Airlines are not required to transport unusual animals such as snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders. Foreign carriers are not required to transport animals other than dogs.


5. Unfavored Reactions of the Public

It is illegal for a service animal to be denied access due to fear of dogs or allergies. It is the business, entity or establishment’s responsibility to accommodate both the service animal handler and a patron, guest, customer or employee who may have allergies or fear of dogs. In most cases, allergies are aggravated or onset by direct contact with an animal, so some type of distance or separated space may be used to allow enough space for a person with fear or allergies to avoid contact with a service animal.

6. Service Animals in Training

The following section was copy/pasted from the ADA’s website that is cited at the end of this page.

a) Air Travel

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) does not allow “service animals in training” in the cabin of the aircraft because “in training” status indicates that they do not yet meet the legal definition of service animal. However, like pet policies, airline policies regarding service animals in training vary. Some airlines permit qualified trainers to bring service animals in training aboard an aircraft for training purposes. Trainers of service animals should consult with airlines and become familiar with their policies.

 b) Employment

In the employment setting, employers may be obligated to permit employees to bring their “service animal in training” into the workplace as a reasonable accommodation, especially if the animal is being trained to assist the employee with work-related tasks. The untrained animal may be excluded, however, if it becomes a workplace disruption or causes an undue hardship in the workplace.

c) Public Facilities and Accommodations

Title II and III of the ADA does not cover “service animals in training” but several states have laws when they should be allowed access.


7. Laws & Enforcement

The following section was copy/pasted from the ADA’s website that is cited at the end of this page.

a) Public Facilities and Accommodations

Title II of the ADA covers state and local government facilities, activities, and programs. Title III of the ADA covers places of public accommodations. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act covers federal government facilities, activities, and programs. It also covers the entities that receive federal funding.

Title II and Title III Complaints – These can be filed through private lawsuits in federal court or directed to the U.S. Department of Justice.

U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section – NYA
Washington, DC 20530 is external)
800-514-0301 (v)
800-514-0383 (TTY)

Section 504 Complaints – These must be made to the specific federal agency that oversees the program or funding.

b) Employment

Title I of the ADA and Section 501 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination in employment. The ADA covers private employers with 15 or more employees; Section 501 applies to federal agencies, and Section 504 applies to any program or entity receiving federal financial assistance.

ADA Complaints – A person must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of an alleged violation of the ADA. This deadline may be extended to 300 days if there is a state or local fair employment practices agency that also has jurisdiction over this matter. Complaints may be filed in person, by mail, or by telephone by contacting the nearest EEOC office. This number is listed in most telephone directories under “U.S. Government.” For more information: is external)
800-669-4000 (voice)
800-669-6820 (TTY)

Section 501 Complaints – Federal employees must contact their agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officer within 45 days of an alleged Section 501 violation.

Section 504 Complaints – These must be filed with the federal agency that funded the employer.

c) Housing

The Fair Housing Act (FHA), as amended in 1988, applies to housing. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all housing programs and activities that are either conducted by the federal government or receive federal financial assistance. Title II of the ADA applies to housing provided by state or local government entities.
Complaints – Housing complaints may be filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. is external)

800-669-9777 (voice)

800-927-9275 (TTY)

d) Education

Students with disabilities in public schools (K-12) are covered by Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Title II of the ADA, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Students with disabilities in public postsecondary education are covered by Title II and Section 504.  Title III of the ADA applies to private schools (K-12 and post-secondary) that are not operated by religious entities. Private schools that receive federal funding are also covered by Section 504.

IDEA Complaints – Parents can request a due process hearing and a review from the state educational agency if applicable in that state. They also can appeal the state agency’s decision to state or federal court. You may contact the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) for further information or to provide your own thoughts and ideas on how they may better serve individuals with disabilities, their families and their communities.

For more information contact:

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.

Washington, DC 20202-7100

202-245-7468 (voice)

Title II of the ADA and Section 504 Complaints – The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education enforces Title II of the ADA and Section 504 as they apply to education. Those who have had access denied due to a service animal may file a complaint with OCR or file a private lawsuit in federal court. An OCR complaint must be filed within 180 calendar days of the date of the alleged discrimination, unless the time for filing is extended for good cause. Before filing an OCR complaint against an institution, an individual may want to find out about the institution’s grievance process and use that process to have the complaint resolved. However, an individual is not required by law to use the institutional grievance process before filing a complaint with OCR. If someone uses an institutional grievance process and then chooses to file the complaint with OCR, the complaint must be filed with OCR within 60 days after the last act of the institutional grievance process.

For more information contact:

U.S. Department of Education

Office for Civil Rights

400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.

Washington, DC 20202-1100

Customer Service: 800-421-3481 (voice)

800-877-8339 (TTY)

E-mail: sends e-mail) is external)


Title III Complaints – These may be filed with the Department of Justice.

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Civil Rights Division

Disability Rights Section – NYA

Washington, DC 20530 is external)

800-514-0301 (v)

800-514-0383 (TTY)

e) Transportation

Title II of the ADA applies to public transportation while Title III of the ADA applies to transportation provided by private entities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to federal entities and recipients of federal funding that provide transportation.

Title II and Section 504 Complaints – These may be filed with the Federal Transit Administration’s Office of Civil Rights. For more information, contact:

Director, FTA Office of Civil Rights

East Building – 5th Floor, TCR

1200 New Jersey Ave., S.E.

Washington, DC 20590
FTA ADA Assistance Line: 888-446-4511 (Voice)
800-877-8339 (Federal Information Relay Service) is external) is external) (Complaint Form)

Title III Complaints – These may be filed with the Department of Justice.

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Civil Rights Division

Disability Rights Section – NYA

Washington, DC 20530 is external)
800-514-0301 (v)

800-514-0383 (TTY)

Note: A person does not have to file a complaint with the respective federal agency before filing a lawsuit in federal court.

f) Air Transportation

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) covers airlines. Its regulations clarify what animals are considered service animals and explain how each type of animal should be treated.

ACAA complaints may be submitted to the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division. Air travelers who experience disability-related air travel service problems may call the hotline at 800-778-4838 (voice) or 800- 455-9880 (TTY) to obtain assistance. Air travelers who would like the Department of Transportation (DOT) to investigate a complaint about a disability issue must submit their complaint in writing or via e-mail to:

Aviation Consumer Protection Division
Attn: C-75-D
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, S.E.
Washington, DC 20590

For additional information and questions about your rights under any of these laws, contact your regional ADA center at 800-949-4232 (voice/TTY).


(2014). Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals: Where are they allowed and under what conditions? Retrieved from