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Service animals in businesses and public places

A service animal is a dog or miniature horse trained to help someone with a disability do something that is hard for them to do. The person with a disability helped by the animal is called its handler. A handler must care for its service animal at all times.

Almost always, service animals that behave well can go everywhere with their handler. If you work in a business or government building, you need to let people with disabilities bring their service animals with them into your buildings and facilities.

Learn more about what the ADA says about service animals

Where service animals can go

A service animal is almost always allowed to be with its handler, even in places that don’t allow pets. Service dogs can go into places like:

  • Restaurants
  • Stores
  • Hotels
  • Hospitals
  • Schools

Here’s an example: In a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, someone with a service dog can still ask to sit inside. The restaurant cannot require them to eat outside because of their service dog.

Asking if a dog is a service animal

If you are working at a business or state or local government site, you need to know what you can and cannot ask someone with a service animal. 

If they have a disability you cannot see, you can ask 2 questions:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

You should not ask:

  • Anything about the handler’s disability
  • To see the service animal do its task(s)
  • For documentation that says the animal is a service animal

Proof

The federal government has not approved any type of form, application, vest, or picture ID to show an animal is a service animal. 

People often buy online documentation that says their animal is a service animal. This does not prove or mean anything. If a dog is wearing a vest, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s a service animal. The dog still needs to be trained to perform a task for a person with a disability to be a service animal.

How to act around a service animal

Service animals are working animals – they are not pets. Do not pet, feed, or bother a service animal. It could cause problems with the dog’s training or be dangerous for the handler.

When a service animal can be excluded

There are a few instances when you can ask someone to remove their service animal or not allow the animal into your business or government site.

If the animal does not behave

A service animal should not:

  • Run around uncontrolled
  • Go to the bathroom indoors
  • Bark, growl at, or bite other animals or people

First, you should ask the handler to get control of the animal. If they don’t, you can ask the handler to remove the service animal. The handler can come back later without their animal.

If their presence fundamentally alters goods, services, programs or activities

You don’t need to allow a service animal if its presence would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities you are providing to the public. 

Examples of this include excluding a service animal from:

  • A hospital area that needs to be kept sterile like an operating room or intensive care unit.
  • An area of a  zoo, where the service animal will be viewed as a predator or as prey by the animal in the exhibit.  
  • Going into a public swimming pool.

Extra fees for service animals

Businesses and government agencies cannot charge a deposit or extra money for a service animal, even if you need to clean up animal hair. 

If a service animal destroys or severely damages something, like a piece of furniture in a hotel room, you can request the handler to pay for that damage.

Learn more

Ask us

If you have questions about service animals, we can help.

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