close up of service dog harness

Service Animals and the Americans with Disabilities Act

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Service animals can be not only a very important part of everyday life for people with disabilities, but they can also become a best friend and partner for these same people as well. When our best friend is also the dog who provides life-changing services for us, we want him to be able to come everywhere with us without extra fuss being made or attention being drawn. Have you ever had any questions about what is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act in regards to service animals? Well, here are a few of the highlights and a link to the ADA’s website for further reading!

The ADA requires State and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations (covered entities) that provide goods or services to the public to make “reasonable modifications” in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. The service animal rules fall under this general principle. Accordingly, entities that have a “no pets” policy generally must modify the policy to allow service animals into their facilities.

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section

A service dog pushing a crosswalk button.

A Few Fun Facts:

    • The Americans with Disabilities Act states that a service animal is one who has been trained to perform tasks to assist someone who has a disability.
      • This means that the animal must actually perform an ACTION OR TASK to help their person.
      • Therapy and emotional support animals DO NOT fit this requirement because their simple presence is what comforts their person.
      • Some local and state governments may have laws that allow these companion or therapy animals to accompany their people around town.
      • This section of the ADA states that some service animals trained to help with anxiety attacks are allowed. Service animals who are trained to take a specific action to assist someone who is about to have an anxiety attack, and the action does help to lessen or eliminate the attack, are protected under the ADA as service animals.
    • When entering a store/building that is not dog-friendly, there are only two questions that staff may ask before admitting a person and their service animal: “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?” and “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?” They also cannot ask for proof of disability or proof of service dog training!
    • Service animals are considered working animals, and not pets, by law.
    • Only dogs, and in some cases, miniature horses, are allowed to be service animals since 2011.


  • Any breed of dog can be a service animal. A service animal cannot be excluded from any establishment based solely on breed.
  • Service animals DO NOT have to be professionally trained according to the ADA. Each person has the right to train his own service animal.
  • No documentation or proof is required for any service animal by the ADA.
  • Service animals do not have to wear any specific badge or uniform to enter public spaces.
  • Service animals must follow all local laws pertaining to vaccinations as well as any local licensing and registration requirements.
  • Service animals ARE allowed near public food, such as salad bars, buffets, and communal food preparation areas such as shared dormitory kitchens.
  • A service animal must be allowed to accompany his person into any hotel room, not just those designated as pet-friendly.
    • If the service animal damages the hotel room, the guest can be charged.
    • However, no charge can be made for shedding!
  • Service animals are allowed in hospitals with their person even though there are other humans around and available to assist with needs.
    • Service animals are also allowed to ride in an ambulance with their person unless there is not enough room for the animal and for appropriate medical treatment to be provided at the same time.
  • Service animals must be under the control of their person AT ALL TIMES in order to be allowed to accompany their person into any establishment.
    • This means that they must be housebroken, non-aggressive, and not display repeated, unprovoked barking.
    • They must also either be on a leash at all times, or under verbal or sight commands that they follow at all times.
    • This also means that service animals cannot be left alone in hotel rooms when their person leaves.
  • If someone feels that their rights under the ADA have been violated, then they have the right to file a private Federal lawsuit against the discriminatory business or person.
  • Churches, temples, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship are exempt from following ADA regulations.
    • There may be state or local laws in place that require these locations to allow service dogs, or they may be happy to allow them on their own.
    • Federal agencies and commercial airlines are also not required to follow ADA regulations.

A service dog visiting a woman in a hospital bed.

If you have ever wondered about service animal regulations, now you know the highlights! To get the full break down, visit:

Do you have a service animal, or have you had experience with them? Share your story in the comment section below!

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Hazel

    Can I charge cleaning fee for ESAs at my bed and breakfast?

  2. Leilani

    I recently stayed at an econolodge in Washington and was charged for my service animal. They called it an upgrade fee.

  3. Justin

    There should never be a charge for a service animal unless it causes damage.

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