A service animal is a dog, or sometimes a miniature horse, that is individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. No other species of animals may be considered as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


The work performed by a service animal must be directly related to an individual's disability. In addition to service animals used for navigation by some individuals who are blind or low vision, service animals assist people with other disabilities. Examples include, but are not limited to:


  • Alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds
  • Alerting individuals to impending seizure activity  or the presence of allergens
  • Providing balance support, pulling a wheelchair or retrieving objects for individuals with mobility disabilities
  • Preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors of individuals with psychiatric disabilities

Comfort, companion, emotional-support and therapy animals are NOT service animals under the ADA. 


A service animal is not a pet. Therefore, even when there is a “no pets” policy, a service animal must be allowed to accompany an individual with a disability wherever the public is permitted to go.

Though some states have programs to certify service animals, it is unlawful to request licensing, certification or identification papers. It is also unlawful to inquire about the nature or extent of a person's disability.

In order to to determine whether an animal qualifies as a service animal under the ADA, it is permissible to ask if the animal is required because of a disability or which task the animal has been individually trained to perform. Individuals with obvious disabilities who use service animals should generally not be questioned.

Because service animals tend to be well trained, handlers are usually able to effectively control the animal through verbal prompts, hand signals or other methods. Allergies and fear of animals are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people with service animals.

If an animal is not housebroken, or if an animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the safety of others, a service animal can be denied access. In those rare circumstances, an individual with a disability must be presented with the option of enjoying a businesses’ goods and services without their service animal present.

A deposit cannot be imposed on an individual with a service animal, even when pet deposits are required. However a customer with a disability can be charged for cleaning and repair costs when a business' policy requires that customers without disabilities pay for damage caused by pets. Transportation providers cannot charge higher fares to individuals with service animals. 


The ADA service animal regulations that apply to state and local government entities, businesses and nonprofit organizations differ from what the ADA allows in the workplace.


Service animals can accompany employees with disabilities as a reasonable accommodation. An employer may request that the reasons a service animal is required be documented, or demonstration that a service animal is trained.


ADA service animal regulations differ from those of other Federal laws, such as Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act. The ADA does not cover service animals in training. State laws vary. Information pertaining to service animals in training can be obtained from every state's attorney general office. 


Enforcement agency U.S. Department of Justice provides service animal guidance at 800-514-0301 (voice), 800-514-0383 (TTY), www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm or www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.pdf

Many thanks to Shawn Gliniewicz of www.bluestarguide.com for his 3/12/15 service animal interview.



Though Ms. Powell possesses ADA expertise, this video interview is intended solely as informal guidance, and is neither a determination of legal rights or responsibilities, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility.

Near the conclusion of this interview, it was Ms. Powell’s intent to state that the general public and local law enforcement are sometimes not informed about the ADA’s service animal provisions. Also important to reiterate is though a pet deposit cannot be charged to service animal handlers, handlers can be charged for damages caused by their service animals if the public is charged for damages caused by their pets.

Published on Jun 4, 2015


The website acesofoundation.com and email address cindy.powell@acesofoundation.com no longer exist.

For additional ADA information, inquirers may contact their local regional ADA Center at 1-800-949-4232 or Ms. Powell, whose contact information is below. Please contact Cindy Powell directly for information about the customized disability and sign language training she provides.








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