Guide Dogs in Places of Business

Helpful hints about Service Animals and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Under Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and businesses such as:

That serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.

Under the ADA, service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. This definition does not limit the size, weight or breed of the dog. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Some state laws define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. For example, some states allow people who raise and/or formally train service animals to have the same access rights as do people with disabilities who use service animals. Information about such laws can be obtained from that State’s attorney general’s office.

Read more about how state and federal laws work to ensure equal access.

In situations where it is not apparent that the dog is a service animal, a business may ask only two questions: 1) is the animal required because of a disability; and 2) what work or task has the animal 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.

Public entities may exclude service animals only if 1) the dog is out of control and the handler cannot or does not regain control; or 2) the dog is not housebroken (i.e., trained so that, absent illness or accident, the animal controls its waste elimination). . Unwarranted or unprovoked violent behavior, such as uncontrolled barking, vicious growling at other customers, jumping on other people, or running away from the owner are examples of unacceptable behavior. The appropriateness of excluding a dog whose behavior is disruptive but not dangerous can be assessed by reviewing how a public entity addresses comparable situations that do not involve a service animal. If a service animal is excluded, the individual must be allowed to enter the business without the service animal.

Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.

People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business such as a hotel or rental car agency requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals. However, if a public entity normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by himself or his service animal.

For more information about service animals and the ADA, call the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or read the DOJ’s overview of Federal civil rights laws that ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities. Complaints of Title II and Title III discrimination may be filed by mail, fax or email with the DOJ’s Disability Rights Section.

Establishments that sell or prepare food

Establishments that sell or prepare food include places like restaurants, cafeterias, coffee shops, cafes, night clubs, bars, convenience stores, grocery stores, ice cream parlors, and other such places where food and beverages are prepared or sold. The ADA allows service animals in such places, even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.

Fears, allergies, cultural beliefs or concerns about other patrons being disturbed by the dog’s presence are not valid reasons for refusing access. Likewise, service animal owners cannot be required to sit in a specific area in order to keep their dogs away from other patrons.

Check out The Seeing Eye's Restaurant PSA

Health Care Facilities

Health care facilities include places like hospitals, clinics, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, nursing homes, laboratories, kidney dialysis and blood plasma centers, imaging services and emergency transport services. Facilities and service providers that are owned or funded by the federal government (such as Veterans Administration facilities and programs) have similar responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no evidence suggests that dogs pose a more significant risk of transmitting infection than people. Therefore, patients, visitors, instructors, volunteers, students, employees, and others with service animals are permitted in all areas of the facility unless an individual's situation or a particular dog poses greater risk that cannot be mitigated through reasonable measures.

Generally, if health-care personnel, visitors, and patients are permitted to enter care areas (e.g., inpatient rooms, some ICUs, and public areas) without taking additional precautions to prevent transmission of infectious agents (e.g., donning gloves, gowns, or masks), a clean, healthy, well behaved service animal should be allowed access with its handler. Similarly, if immunocompromised patients are able to receive visitors without using protective garments or equipment, an exclusion of service animals from this area would not be justified. Veterinary certificates and vaccination records cannot be required before allowing access unless there is reason to believe that the animal is not in good health.

When a decision must be made regarding a dog's access to a restricted area of the health care facility, the entire situation must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Health-care personnel should consider the nature of the risk (including duration and severity); the probability that injury will occur; and whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures will mitigate the risk. The person with a service animal should contribute to this assessment.

Health care personnel are generally not responsible for the care and supervision of a service animal. In cases where a patient is confined to bed in a hospital for a period of time, a family member, friend, or other person may assume the responsibility of taking the dog out several times a day for exercise and elimination. In emergency situations, however, responders may temporarily need to provide immediate care and supervision for the dog if the patient is unable to do so.

Read a Self-Evaluation Checklist for Health Care Facilities and Service Providers

Or learn how to accommodate service animals in a Public health emergency or disaster

Places of Lodging

Lodging establishments include hotels, inns, motels, emergency shelters, campgrounds, sporting camps and other places of transient lodging. In some instances, time shares and vacation home rentals may also be covered. The ADA does not cover owner-occupied establishments with five or fewer rooms but state laws may provide broader access.

Guests with service animals are allowed in areas such as dining rooms and buffets, swimming pool areas, salons and spas, shuttle services, fitness centers and any other place guests are normally allowed. When assigning rooms, guests with service animals may not be restricted to "smoking" or "pet" rooms; charged extra fees or deposits generally paid by patrons with pets; or be required to sign a pet policy.

Read The American Foundation for the Blind’s ADA Checklist for Hotels and Motels

Recreational Settings

Places of recreation include but are not limited to zoos and wildlife parks, theatres, fairs, farms, health spas, sports stadiums, amusement parks, water recreational  facilities, skating rinks, bowling alleys, museums, galleries, libraries and other such places of exhibition or entertainment, public gathering, public display or collection, and recreation.

Any limitations on the use of service animals must be shown by the place of recreation to be necessary for safe operation. Each facility needs to make a careful assessment of each area to determine where safety concerns justify restricting service animals.  Unsubstantiated fears about potential risks will not suffice to justify the exclusion of service animals from areas open to the general public.

Sometimes zoos or other places with animals may need to restrict access to people with service animals in certain areas where the dog's presence would pose a direct threat to the health and safety of the animals. Likewise, some National Parks require the owner of a service animal to obtain a special permit before allowing access to its backcountry or other restricted areas of the park.

In the same way, service animals may generally accompany people with disabilities to all areas of an amusement park. A ride-by-ride assessment in terms of safety issues should be conducted before excluding service animals from any of the rides. In Recreation and Fitness Centers, health and safety concerns generally prohibit guide dogs from being in the pool water.