This post will outline some basic rules that all public-facing entities should be aware of with regard to service animals’ legal status under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While these rules are generally very straightforward and, for the most part, common sense, having a clear understanding of the rules at play can help entities covered under Title III steer clear of potential pitfalls or worse, a discrimination suit. Additionally, the more people who are educated about the rules regarding service animals, the easier the world will be to navigate for those who rely on them.
Definitions Applicable to Title III
Most people are familiar with the idea that service animals must be permitted to accompany their owners in public spaces. This requirement comes from Title III of the ADA. Title III imposes the requirement that all “places of public accommodation,” in common parlance, anywhere open to the public, allow for the presence of service animals in all areas where the public is permitted to be. This means that a workplace such as a factory wouldn’t be required to allow a service animal in the facility, but if that factory were to offer guided tours to the public, service animals would be required to have access to the spaces where a tour group is permitted to be.
Service animals are defined in the Act to include dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. These tasks run the gamut from banal to astounding, but common tasks include things like as opening doors, guiding the blind, and predicting seizures. This definition of service animals notably excludes what is commonly thought of as an emotional support animal, no matter how much the animal’s presence benefits its owner, if the animal isn’t trained to perform any tasks on the owner’s behalf.
In an unusual development, the regulations implementing ADA Title III were amended in order to add miniature horses to the short list of species (just dogs and miniature horses) that can be service animals under Title III. Apparently, miniature horses were found to have a dog-like propensity for learning useful tasks to benefit persons with disabilities who suffer from dog allergies.
Rules Governing Covered Entities
Covered entities are not permitted to inquire into a person with a disability’s need for their service animal if the animal’s training is “readily apparent.” However, if the animal’s training to perform tasks on behalf of the person with a disability isn’t readily apparent, the owners of a covered entity or their agents may make two very specific inquiries: 1) “is this a service animal required because of a disability?” and 2) “what work tasks has the animal been trained to perform?” Any other inquiries could be interpreted as discriminatory.
The only contexts in which a covered entity is permitted to exclude the service animal from its premises are where the animal is not “under the control” of its handler. This is deemed to be the case if the animal is either not housebroken or is presenting a danger to the health and safety of others. This determination must be based on an individual assessment of the particular animal and cannot be based upon stereotypes. The animal is also considered not under the control of its handler if not leashed or bound by a tether of one type or another, unless the person’s disability makes that infeasible.
Hopefully, this post elucidated the outlines of this legal requirement for those owners and agents of covered entities to whom it is most directly relevant, and proved educational to the rest of us who encounter service animals at various times during the course of our lives.
If you have questions about any of material in this post, one of our attorneys can assist you. Please do not hesitate to contact the Wladis Law Firm. We may be reached at (315) 445-1700 or by e-mailing your everyday firm contacts.
Christopher J. Baiamonte
Mr. Baiamonte concentrates his practice primarily on civil litigation. He counsels individual, corporate, and municipal clients on resolving disputes ranging from environmental liability to shareholders rights to creditor–debtor suits. He also works with clients to navigate various state and federal regulations relating to areas such as environmental protection, employment, and civil rights.