Angela · Uncategorized

Lawyers and Your Lifeline – US Service Dog Law

When most people hear the words “service dog,” they see this:


While this is a type of service dog, this is not what most of us mean. Many of us mean:



Disclaimer: My knowledge is specific to the United States. This post does not replace advice from a trained lawyer, it is only intended for educational purposes.

First off, let’s define what a service animal is through the law. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) defines a service animal as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.” This means that the animal must be able to do something for the owner that mitigates their disability. For example, my service dog, Entei, is trained to respond to my fainting and wake me up. That is a task.

He is also trained in deep pressure therapy as a response to an anxiety attack. This also qualifies under psychiatric tasks. However, the presence of an animal making you “feel better” is not a task. These types of animals are Emotional Support and DO NOT have public access rights under federal law. There may be some local entities that allow public access for trained ESAs. Just remember, when you leave your state/city that allows them, you CANNOT take them. If you come to California with an Emotional Support Animal from a state that allows them public access, you cannot take them out in public. You become subject to the laws of where you are at the current moment.


The ADA also protects our right to owner train our animals. Entei does not need any special certification or license saying that he has been formally trained. There is more about registration in the next section. That being said, if I weren’t in the state of California, I would not have been allowed to take him into public, non-pet places while he was training. Federal law DOES NOT protect service dogs in training (SDiT.) There are, however, many states that do.

We chose to have Entei go through the three basic Canine Good Citizen course at Petsmart. Here he is when he graduated the Advanced Class 🙂


Let’s talk about the laws in regards to other people and businesses.

When I have my “good” days, and I’m walking, the first thing I (usually) hear when entering a building is “You can’t bring pets in here”… My immediate response is “He’s a Service Animal and access is required by law.” What happens next is usually one of two things.

  1. VERY rarely do I get an “Alright, have a nice day.” This is what should happen in most cases. He’s vested (even though legally he doesn’t have to be) and (usually) on his best behavior. No other questions should be needed. Though, legally, they can ask me “what task is he trained to perform?” and legally all I have to say is medical alert / medical response. Others may say psychiatric (I choose not to because this may give them a negative demeanor towards me,) mobility, guide, diabetic alert, sensory alert, etc. There is a provision here that states “in situations where it is not obvious that the animal is a service animal.” This technically means that when I am in my wheelchair, or he is vested with service dog patches, they cannot ask these questions.
  2. The most common question I get is “Can I see some identification/certification?” This is ILLEGAL under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Not only is there no certification for service animals, asking for your doctor’s letter of reasonable accommodation is illegal because it would contain medical information which is private. Some states/counties/cities have VOLUNTARY registration, but that is legally all that they can have. No state/county/city can require registration for access of a service animal. They can only require that they have the same vaccinations as any other dog would.


If they ask me about identification, I try to be calm about educating them. There are a few days where I can’t keep my composure, and come off as rude, and THAT’S OKAY. In all reality, these types of businesses should have proper education and should be aware of the law. Just in case, I try to keep this handout in my dog’s pack to give them. It’s a bit long, but its straight from the Department of Justice and covers pretty much everything they could ever ask you about when a service dog enters their facility.

There are also days where it is too much of a toll on me to vest my dog. I can still legally take him out in public because the ADA does not state that he must be vested or otherwise marked as a service animal.


Many people worry about the damage the animal “could do” to their things. Here, you calmly assure them that under the law, you are responsible if the dog ruins anything.

If your service dog smells, isn’t house broken, or is disruptive, the entity can still ask you to leave.

They also worry about those with allergies. Fear or allergy is not a legitimate reason to exclude a service animal.

The only places that can deny a service animal entrance are religious organizations, private property (a person’s home,) and a sterile environment (operating rooms, isolation, etc.) Certain parts of zoos are also on this list because the presence of the dog may make the animals agitated or aggressive.

This also applies to boarding schools, though they must only make arrangements for “dog free” areas.

Remember, sovereign land is not subject to federal law, and thus the ADA is not valid on Indian reservations.


Service dogs AND emotional support animals are covered under the Fair Housing Act (FHA.) This means that apartment complexes and landlords with more than 4 units must allow them to live there regardless of their pet policy. They also cannot charge you a pet deposit or any “pet rent.”

This brings us to restricting breeds. If your animal is a service animal, they cannot be excluded because they may be an aggressive breed. The courts can require a case-by-case analyses of the animal in places where a certain breed is considered a “direct threat,” but they cannot outlaw them completely.


There are many other facets of service dog law that I will come to cover in the future, but this covers most of what’s on the ADA’s FAQ sheet.


What access issues have you run into? Do you have any other questions? Let me know in the comments or email me at


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