Service Animals and ADA Compliance at Your Business
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law enacted in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the public.
The ADA requires businesses 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.
What is a Service Animal?
The American with Disabilities Act says: “a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. ”
Further, it states what the term “do work or perform tasks” means: “The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure” (July 20, 2015).
So, for the animal to qualify as a service animal under ADA, it must be trained to perform tasks for the disabled. Also note, beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs (and miniature horses) are recognized as service animals under Titles II and III of the ADA.
What questions can staff/ employees ask to determine if a dog is a service animal?
In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific 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?
Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.
Can service animals be any breed of dog?
Yes. The ADA does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals.
Who is responsible for the care and supervision of a service animal?
The handler is responsible for caring for and supervising the service animal, which includes toileting, feeding, and grooming and veterinary care. Covered entities are not obligated to supervise or otherwise care for a service animal.
Does the ADA require that service animals be certified as service animals?
No. Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry.
Note: There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.
Do service animals have to wear a vest or patch or special harness identifying them as service animals?
No. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.
What can my staff do when a service animal is being disruptive?
If a service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, staff may request that the animal be removed from the premises.
The ADA requires that service animals be under the control of the handler at all times. In most instances, the handler will be the individual with a disability or a third party who accompanies the individual with a disability. In the school (K-12) context and in similar settings, the school or similar entity may need to provide some assistance to enable a particular student to handle his or her service animal. The service animal must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered while in public places unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the person’s disability prevents use of these devices. In that case, the person must use voice, signal, or other effective means to maintain control of the animal.
For example, a person who uses a wheelchair may use a long, retractable leash to allow her service animal to pick up or retrieve items. She may not allow the dog to wander away from her and must maintain control of the dog, even if it is retrieving an item at a distance from her. Or, a returning veteran who has PTSD and has great difficulty entering unfamiliar spaces may have a dog that is trained to enter a space, check to see that no threats are there, and come back and signal that it is safe to enter. The dog must be off leash to do its job, but may be leashed at other times. Under control also means that a service animal should not be allowed to bark repeatedly in a lecture hall, theater, library, or other quiet place. However, if a dog barks just once, or barks because someone has provoked it, this would not mean that the dog is out of control.