What is a service animal?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include: Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds, pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments, assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance, seizure alert dogs, or PTSD service dogs.

Where are service dogs allowed to go?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed. This applies to all businesses open to the public. When it is not obvious what service the dog provides, the location supervisors may ask only two questions:

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

Service dog handlers are recommended to meet with facilities that they will be using regularly to discuss disability resources and the use of a service dog on site, but this is not required under the law at this time.

May a person be asked about the nature of their disability?

No. It is illegal to ask a person to disclose what their disability is or the reason they have a service dog.

Are animals other than dogs recognized as service animals?

No. Under the law only dogs (or in some instances, miniature horses) are recognized as service animals.

What is considered work or tasks that the dog performs?

The work or tasks performed by a service dog must be directly related to the disability. Examples of such work include:

  • Guiding people who are blind
  • Alerting people who are deaf
  • Reminding a person to take prescribed medication
  • Alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Alerting a person when blood glucose levels are low

The work or task must be active not passive. The crime deterrent effects of an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well‐being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks. Such animals are deemed Emotional Support Animals.

Do I need a service dog certification?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is any dog individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability in a manner directly related to the disability. Animals which meet this definition are considered service animals whether or not they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government or any other agency. Although some service animals wear identifying harnesses or vests, there is no requirement that service animals be identified.

What if another person is allergic to or afraid of dogs?

Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. It may be possible to accommodate by requesting that service dog handlers use different locations or entrances. County/city ordinances regarding leash laws apply to service animals as well as pets for the benefit of all.

Can the service dog be removed from the facility?

A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his or her service animal from the premises unless:

  1. the dog is behaving in a disruptive manner by barking, growling, whimpering, running around, or soliciting social attention through behavior or animal clothing uncharacteristic of a service animal; or
  2.  the dog is not housebroken or clean; or
  3.  the presence of the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of other persons that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services.

If any of the above 3 concerns exist, the service dog (not the person) may be asked to leave.


Having a current dog license, keeping the dog clean and pest free; in a harness or on a leash unless either the handler is unable because of a disability to use a harness or leash, or the use of a harness or leash would interfere with the service animal’s performance of work or tasks; and any harm or injury caused by the animal to other people or property.

What if my rights as a service animal handler are not recognized?

A person with a disability cannot be asked for ID for a service animal. They cannot be asked if the animal is certified as a service animal. They cannot be asked what their disability is. The ADA is a federal law which requires businesses and organizations that serve the public to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. The law requires these businesses and organizations that serve the public to serve all of their customers equally. Many businesses have little experience interacting with service animals and may need education. However, if the rights outlined in the ADA are denied, this is in violation of federal law.



As a business owner, how can I tell if an animal is really a service animal?

Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. However, an individual who is going to a restaurant or theater is not likely to be carrying documentation of his or her medical condition or disability. Therefore, such documentation may not be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal. You may not insist on proof of certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability. The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers.

I have a clearly posted “no pets” policy at my establishment. Do I still have to let service animals in?

Yes. A service animal is not a pet. The ADA requires you to modify your "no pets" policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability.

Can I charge a cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals into my business?

No. Neither a deposit nor a surcharge may be imposed on an individual with a disability as a condition to allowing a service animal to accompany the individual with a disability, even if deposits are routinely required for pets. However, a public accommodation may charge its customers with disabilities if a service animal causes damage so long as it is the regular practice of the entity to charge non-disabled customers for the same types of damages.

I operate a private taxi or uber and don’t want animals in my vehicle. Am I violating the ADA if I refuse to pick up someone with a service animal?


Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?

No. The care or supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of his or her owner. You are not required to provide care or food or a special location for the animal.

If you have further questions about service animals or other requirements of the ADA, you may call the U.S. Department of Justice's toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 833-610-1264 (TDD).