The American with Disabilities Act of 1990 is the applicable law covering places of public accommodation. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section issued "ADA 2010 Revised Requirements; Service Animals.
"Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."
Where Service Dogs are Allowed
The Department of Transportation's regulations enacting the Air Carrier Access Act permit "dogs and other service animals" to accompany passengers on commercial airlines. The Fair Housing Act also requires housing providers to permit service animals (including comfort and emotional support animals) without species restrictions in housing.
Because there is no certification of service animals in the United States, businesses must take declaration of an animal's service status at face value, and furthermore are restricted in the questions they may ask about the animal:
When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Businesses may ask two questions:
- is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and
- what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.
Businesses cannot ask about the person's disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
Under the ADA, businesses are permitted to deny access to service dogs that are not behaving properly. They may also be excluded if the presence of the animal constitutes a fundamental alteration of the business or poses a direct threat. Persons with service dogs are not required to pay any additional fees on account of the service dog, though the owner is responsible for any damages caused by the dog.
Service dogs may wear special vests or ID tags, but they are not a requirement of the ADA.