Whether you are a business owner, manager, supervisor or employee – we may all encounter animals in our establishments.  Encountering animals in any work setting can be a difficult or even scary situation;especially with the laws, health codes and company policies. Our mission here at WSSDA, is to not only provide resources for service dog handlers, but also to help educate and empower businesses. From fortune 500 companies and corporations to mom-and-pop shops and stores, we are here to help you!

Below you will find some commonly asked questions/concerns, resources to find the laws in your state, and ways to acquire more information such as certain hotlines and websites.

Common Questions And Concerns

My company/business does not allow allow pets on the premises or inside the building. What do I do when I see an animal in the store?

First, identify whether the animal is a service animal or not. This is crucial, especially for companies that have pet policies that employees are expected to enforce. Remember that although pets and/or emotional support animals are not typically allowed public access, persons with trained service animals are allowed access by federal and state law. Ways to do this are by:

  • Visual Identification – See if the animal 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.**NOTE: Service animals do NOT need to wear a vest (or other similar gear), garnish an ID card, or be visually identified via patches, labels or other related items. ID cards, registration and certificates  are not recognized as proof that an animal is a service animal by the Department of Justice, and do not convey any rights under the ADA.

  • Verbal Identification –In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions:
    1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
    2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?**Business owners/staff/employees can NOT:
  • ask about the person’s disability/disabilities
  • require medical documentation
  • require a special identification (ID) card or training documentation for the animal
  • ask that the animal demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow persons with service animals to accompany their disabled handler in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.

When can a service animal be excluded?

Persons with service animals are allowed public access by state and federal law- even to businesses that have a “no pets” policy,  such as restaurants, tattoo parlors, hotels, pools, etc. However, the ADA does not require entities to modify policies, practices, or procedures if it would fundamentally alter the nature of goods, services, programs or activities provided to the public, nor does the ADA overrule legitimate safety requirements. In other words, if admittance to a service animal would fundamentally alter the nature of a good, service, program or activity provided to the public, or would pose a legitimate safety concern, service animals may be prohibited.

Examples of places a service animal may be prohibited are:

  • Factories/production facilities where the public may tour and get close to products that are being made
  • Sterile environments – such as an operation room in a hospital, “employee only” rooms, sterile rooms where equipment is sterilized or burn units
  • Certain areas of dormitories or medical offices/facilities that have been reserved specifically for residents or patients with allergies to animals
  • Areas of zoos where the animals on display are the natural prey or predators of the service animal where the presence of that service animal would be disruptive to the animals being displayed (such as causing the animals on display to become agitated or cause them to behave aggressively).
  • Dog parks with weight limit restrictions that a service animal may exceed for the safety of the other dogs visiting the park

Service animals may also be excluded if they are:

  • NOT under control of the handler (at all times)- via leash, tether, or harness while in public places unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work, or the persons disability prevents the use of these devices. If that is the case, the person must use voice, signal, or other effective means to maintain control of the handler.
  • Not housebroken or fully potty trained.
  • If the handler does not take effective action to control a service animal.**Examples of a service animal NOT being under control are:
    • Jumping on others, products, counters, tables, shelves, etc.
    • Wandering or running away from its handler
    • Lunging, growling or other actions exhibiting aggressive behavior that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others
    • Excessive Barking (excluding a single bark, or barks because someone has provoked it)
    • Urinating and/or defecating in areas other than those appropriate for the animal to do so

In short, staff may request that the ANIMAL (not the handler) be removed from the premises if the animal is not under control of the handler at all times, poses a direct threat to the health and safety to others, fundamentally alters the nature of goods, services, programs or activity provided to the public, or would pose a legitimate safety concern to those things. The business must still offer to provide goods and services to the handler, excluding the animal.

What can I as a business owner or my staff/employees do when a service animal is being disruptive?

If a service animal is being disruptive, out of control, or posing a direct threat to the health and safety of others, you or your staff may request that the person/handler to remove the dog from the premises. If an animal is excluded for such reasons, staff must still offer goods or services to the person without the animal present.

What if I or a staff member request that a person/handler remove a service animal for an appropriate reason, and the person/handler will not comply?

You may then call local law enforcement. You are now within your rights to remove the handler as well.

What if I, my employees, or patrons/others are afraid of animals or allergic to them?

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. People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons or be treated less favorably than other patrons.

What if my business or company (such as a hotel/motel) charges a pet fee for animals to be allowed in the establishment or on the premises?

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. An entity cannot require an extra cleaning fee for persons with service animals.

What happens if a person thinks a covered entity’s staff has discriminated against him or her?

Individuals who believe that they have been illegally denied access or service because they use service animals may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.  Individuals also have the right to file a private lawsuit in Federal court charging the entity with discrimination under the ADA.

Resources For Businesses

ADA Information Line

800-514-0301 (Voice) and 800-514-0383 (TTY)
24 hours a day to order publications by mail.
M-W, F 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Th 12:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time)
to speak with an ADA Specialist. All calls are confidential.