Service animal

Generally, a service animal is an animal that is individually trained to perform a specific task for an individual with a disability. The specific definition, however, varies in different contexts:

  • Title II and Title III, generally: Under the regulations from the US Department of Justice for Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), a service animal is a dog that is individually trained to perform a specific task for an individual with a disability. No other types of animals, with the sole exception of a miniature horse, are considered service animals. Service animals are generally allowed wherever the public is permitted to go. This includes restaurants, theaters, hotels, colleges, county social service offices, and medical offices. A special license or certification is not required for a service animal. This definition does not include emotional support as a task.
  • Title II and the US Department of Transportation (DOT): It is important to know that the DOT uses a different definition of service animal in relation to Title II. This applies to transportation controlled or operated by a state or local government, such as city buses, light rail, and commuter trains. In these circumstances, a service animal is defined by the DOT as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability…” In these regulations, a service animal does not necessarily have to be a dog.
  • Employment: The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does not define a service animal, but a service animal is considered to be a reasonable accommodation, so an employee must request to have their service animal in the workplace.
  • Fair Housing Act (FHA): Under the FHA, the term assistance animal is used instead of service animal. This law—which is enforced by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development—uses a very different definition. This definition includes what is considered a service animal under the ADA, but it has fewer limitations.

[ Read: Service Animals Overview ]


Related Resources

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  • Service Animal Scenarios
    03/27/2019- Chris Sweet, Northeast ADA Technical Assistance and Outreach Specialist, will present Service Animal Scenarios. Service animals often appear in popular media as a topic of contention as airlines, sto...
  • Is That a Service Animal: What Rights Apply Where
    01/24/2018- The Northeast ADA Center is often asked about service animals. It can be confusing for individuals with disabilities, businesses, transit providers, and landlords to know what rights a person with a d...
  • Next Steps Webinar: Service Animals - Legal and Practical Issues
    04/22/2010- As the population of people with disabilities grows, so does the number of individuals who use service animals. Therefore it is becoming more likely that a person with a physical or psychiatric disabi...
  • Veterans and Service Animals
    11/12/2013- This 1.5 hour webinar will focus on the use of service animals by veterans, primarily in ADA Title II (State & Local Government) and Title III (Places of Public Accommodation) settings. The webina...
  • Air Travel for Individuals with Disabilities: Intersection of the Air Carriers Access Act and the ADA
    11/18/2015- A recent study by the Open Doors Organization revealed that in the past two years, more than 26 million adults with disabilities traveled for business or pleasure. While legislation such as the Air Ca...

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Service Animals in Retail
Infographic titled 'Service Animals in Retail' featuring several text boxes on a background of coat hangers in a clothes store.

Service animals are not pets. You can ask:
1. Is the Service Animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
Service Animals must be under the control of the handler or the animal can be asked to be removed while the customer can continue shopping.

If you have any questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act, contact us at 1-800-949-4232
Accommodations in the Lab: Service Animals
Accommodations in the Lab: Service Animals

The right to be accompanied by a service animal can fall under Titles I, II, and III of the ADA.

The organization must balance the handler's rights with animal safety.

Personal protective equipment for the animal should be considered.

If you have questions about the Americans with Disabilities act, contact us at 1-800-949-4232
Service Animals at Work: Helpful Tip #1
Infographic titled 'Service Animals at Work: Helpful Tip #1' featuring a sitting service dog in a vest.

Service Animals at Work - Helpful Tip #1:
You can request a reasonable accommodation from your employer if you need a service animal.

If you have any questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act, contact us at 1-800-949-4232
Service Animals at Work: Helpful Tip #2
Infographic titled 'Service Animals at Work: Helpful Tip #2' featuring a sitting service dog in a vest.

Service Animals at Work - Helpful Tip #2:
Employers may request reasonable documentation to show the need for the service animal.

If you have any questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act, contact us at 1-800-949-4232
Because of the ADA
Infographic titled 'Because of the ADA.'

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law on July 26, 1990. The ADA is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including access to jobs, schools, transportation, and public and private places that are open to the general public. The law is divided into five titles (or areas) where the various protections for people with disabilities are spelled out. The goal of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Here are just a few of the positive effects that can be observed today, all because of the ADA.

Are you going out into the community? You can park in an accessible parking space. You can take an accessible bus. You can easily enter stores because of a curb ramp and doors that are accessible. You can navigate through stores along a clear path of travel. Signage at areas like bathrooms is clear and concise with raised characters and Braille. Drinking fountains are accessible. The checkout counter and service counters you encounter are lower and more accessible. You can bring your service animal with you.

Are you going to the movies? theaters offer assisted listening devices to help you hear better.

Are you making a phone call? You can use a relay service to assist you with communication.

Are you going to a concert or sporting event? You have access to wheelchair accessible seats alongside your friends and family.

Are you going to work? You can request a change in how things are typically done from your employer, called a reasonable accommodation, to assist you with work tasks.

Are you going to vote or to a town meeting? Your polling place and municipal programs, offices and meetings must be accessible to you.

Are you going to the Doctor? You can request an interpreter to communicate more efficiently. You can request medical information in a manner that works for you.

Nearly 37 million people in our country have a disability and nearly 25% of today's 20 year olds will experience disability in their lifetime. (ADA National Network, ADA Anniversary Toolkit)

'This Act is powerful in its simplicity. it will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and hard. Independence, freedom of choice, control of their own lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.' -President George H.W. Bush, ADA Signing Ceremony, July 26, 1990