Service Animals are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as dogs and, in some cases miniature horses, that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work include guiding people who are blind and alerting people who are deaf. Service animals also employ specific skills to provide mobility assistance, communicate seizure or cardiac medical alerts and/or perform other duties that mitigate an individual’s disability.
Service dogs are considered working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Service dogs are permitted, in accordance with the ADA, to accompany a person with a disability almost anywhere the general public is allowed. This includes restaurants, businesses and on airplanes.
A Therapy Animal, as those who participate in the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program, is not a Service Animal. A therapy animal has no special rights of access, except in those facilities where they are welcomed. They may not enter businesses with “no pets” policies or accompany their handler in the cabin of an airplane regardless of their therapy animal designation. Although they may wear a vest when visiting or training, this does not legally allow them any special privileges.
A Service Animal is not required to wear a vest or identification but the majority do. A Service Animal owner does not have to provide proof or an agency ID card. When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff/public may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
Service Animals are specially trained to meet the needs of their owner, but they must leashed and be well behaved in public. Under the ADA, a service dog may be removed from a public place for disruptive behavior.
Links related to Service Dogs
Comparison Chart: Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals, Therapy Animals
Brochure from the Department of Justice
Booklet from ADA National Network on Service and ESA Animals