A service animal walks into a bar…accompanied by an individual with a disability. The manager says the bar does not allow pets. After explaining the animal is a service animal, the manager asks to see documentation proving that the animal is a service animal.

There are many misconceptions regarding service animals and emotional support/therapy animals. As an intake advocate with DRA, I receive numerous calls requesting information on how to determine if an animal is a service animal or an emotional support/therapy animal.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is defined as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

The key word in the above definition is trained. A service animal must be trained, either by the individual or a professional trainer.  If an animal has not been trained to perform a specific task, the animal is not considered a service animal under the ADA. If an individual has an animal that comforts them by its mere presence, or petting the animal calms them, that animal is an emotional support/therapy animal. While a service animal may accompany an individual with a disability to any place where members of the public are allowed, an emotional support/therapy animal may not.

There are two questions that can be asked of an individual with an animal:

  1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

If the animal performs a task, then the animal is a service animal and must be allowed to accompany the individual. A service animal does not have to wear a vest, patch, or special harness identifying it as a service animal, nor does the animal need a special certification or license. An individual utilizing a service animal does not have to provide any information beyond answers to the above questions.

To deny an individual access to a public facility due to their service animal is discrimination.  For additional information about service animals can be found at the links below.

https://disabilityrightsar.org/category/service-animals/

https://adata.org/publication/service-animals-booklet

Christy Furqueron is an intake advocate at DRA.