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

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COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT

SERVICE ANIMALS IN PLACES OF BUSINESS

 

1. Q: What are the laws that apply to my business?

A: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),
privately owned 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.

2. Q: What is a service animal?

A: The 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.

A service animal is not a pet.

3. Q: How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?

A: 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 generally may not be required as a condition for
providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal.
Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals,
you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the
service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

4. Q: What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?

A: 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.

5. Q: I have always had a clearly posted “no pets” policy at my establishment. Do I still have to allow service animals in?

A: 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. This does not mean you
must abandon your “no pets” policy altogether but simply that you must
make an exception to your general rule for service animals.

6. Q: My county health department has told me that only a guide dog has to be admitted. If I follow those regulations, am I violating the ADA?

A: Yes, if you refuse to admit any other type of service
animal on the basis of local health department regulations or other
state or local laws. The ADA provides greater protection for individuals
with disabilities and so it takes priority over the local or state laws
or regulations.

7. Q: Can I charge a maintenance or cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals into my business?

A: 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. For example, a
hotel can charge a guest with a disability for the cost of repairing or
cleaning furniture damaged by a service animal if it is the hotel’s
policy to charge when non-disabled guests cause such damage.

8. Q: I operate a private taxicab and I don’t want
animals in my taxi; they smell, shed hair and sometimes have
“accidents.” Am I violating the ADA if I refuse to pick up someone with a
service animal?

A: Yes. Taxicab companies may not refuse to provide
services to individuals with disabilities. Private taxicab companies are
also prohibited from charging higher fares or fees for transporting
individuals with disabilities and their service animals than they charge
to other persons for the same or equivalent service.

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

A: 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.

10. Q: What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?

A: You may exclude any animal, including a service animal,
from your facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to
the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that
displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be
excluded. You may not make assumptions, however, about how a particular
animal is likely to behave based on your past experience with other
animals. Each situation must be considered individually.

Although a public accommodation may exclude any service
animal that is out of control, it should give the individual with a
disability who uses the service animal the option of continuing to enjoy
its goods and services without having the service animal on the
premises.

11. Q: Can I exclude an animal that doesn’t really seem dangerous but is disruptive to my business?

A: There may be a few circumstances when a public
accommodation is not required to accommodate a service animal–that is,
when doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of
the business. Generally, this is not likely to occur in restaurants,
hotels, retail stores, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities.
But when it does, for example, when a dog barks during a movie, the
animal can be excluded.

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
800-514-0383 (TDD).

July 1996

Reproduction of this document is encouraged.

Last updated January 14, 2008