COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT SERVICE ANIMALS
IN PLACES OF BUSINESS
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.
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. “Seeing
eye 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
_____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.
Q: How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just
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.
Q: What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my
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.
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.
Q: My county health department has told me that only a seeing eye or
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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