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5 Service Dog Laws Every Handler Should Know

Service animals make it possible for people with disabilities to live freely and independently. Service dogs and their handlers are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which states that “a public entity shall change its policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.”

It is crucial for both service dog handlers and public establishments to understand these laws. In this post, we will look at five very important service dog laws that every handler should know.

1. Service Dogs are Allowed Access to Public Facilities

The ADA requirements state that “local governments, businesses, and non-profit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public are allowed to go.”

This includes restaurants and foodservice lines, grocery stores, hospitals, school campuses, hotels, office buildings, retail stores, and other places open to the public.  

When it comes to flying, the ADA protects people with service animals in airports and terminals, and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) protects handlers who fly with a service animal. The ACAA requires airlines to allow a person to fly with a service animal or emotional support animal (ESA). For more information about flying with a service animal and the Air Carrier Access Act, please visit the ADA National Network.

Some places that service dogs are not allowed are operating rooms (where an animal may compromise sterilization) and places of worship, which are exclusively exempt from the ADA. 

2. Questions Someone May Ask a Handler About Their Service Animal

The ADA says there are only two questions employees or staff may ask a service dog handler:

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

Please note that someone should only ask these two questions when it is not clear what service the animal provides. For example, it might not be obvious that someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), needs a service dog, therefore these questions are appropriate. But a visually impaired handler, using a service animal as a guide dog, is obvious, in which case these questions would be inappropriate to ask.

Staff may not demand any documentation or proof that the animal is certified or trained to be a service animal. They may not ask for medical documentation or inquire about the handler’s disability. Furthermore, they may not ask for the service dog to demonstrate any work or task.

3. The Handler Must Have Control of Their Service Animal

A service animal is under the sole supervision and care of their handler and public facilities are not required to care for or supervise them.

A service animal must be under the control of its handler at all times. They must be restrained unless that restraint hinders them from completing their duties. If this is the case, the handler must use hand gestures, voice signals, or other cues to maintain control over the service dog.

If a service animal is disruptive, a handler must take immediate action to keep the animal under control.

4. Reasons a Public Facility May Ask a Handler to Remove Their Service Animal

According to the ADA, there are two reasons a public place may ask a handler to remove their service animal, they are:

(1) The animal is disruptive or out of control, and the handler does not take action to control it; or
(2) The animal isn’t house trained

A person being allergic to dogs, or having a fear of dogs, are not valid reasons to ask for a service dog to be removed or to refuse access to people who have service animals.

If the service animal is legitimately asked to be removed, the public establishment must give the person a chance to get goods or services without their service animal.

5. No Surcharges Can Be Asked From a Handler 

It is unlawful to ask a handler to pay any additional charges just because they have a service animal. A handler cannot be made to pay for charges that other people do not have to pay. If there is usually a charge or a deposit for people with animals, a public entity must waive these charges for a service dog. But if there is damage caused by a handler or their service animal, then the handler can be charged for damages. 

Every service dog handler should know their rights protected under the ADA, and the laws discussed in this post are just a few. If you want to learn more about service dog laws, please visit the ADA website here. You can also check out the ADA’s Frequently Asked Questions page here.

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“ADA Service Dog Laws (2020)” Accessed December 15, 2020

“ADA Requirements Service Animals” US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Disability Rights Section. Originally issued: July 12, 2011. Last updated: February 24, 2020. Accessed December 14, 2020

“Americans with Disabilities Act Title II Regulations” Part 35 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services. October 11, 2016. Accessed December 14, 2020

“Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA” U.S. Department of Justice. Civil Rights Division. Disability Rights Section. July 20, 2015. Accessed December 14, 2020

“Flying with a Service Animal” ADA National Network. Accessed December 16, 2020,must%20provide%20animal%20relief%20areas.

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