Service Dogs and Animals

Understanding ADA laws on service and emotional support animals

As a business owner, you may encounter a customer or client who enters your establishment with a dog on a harness. This may be upsetting to you or to other employees or customers, particularly if you are running a food establishment, displaying breakable items or have small children on the premises. You may be tempted to ask the person to remove the dog from your building, but before you do this, it would be wise to consult with a legal professional about the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Animals, especially dogs, often receive training to provide services to people with certain disabilities. Most well-known, perhaps, are those dogs that assist people with visual impairments. The Department of Justice requires all business owners to welcome service dogs into their establishments. However, for some, the definition of a service dog is blurry.

The rights of those with service animals

Pets provide emotional support to most pet parents, but it is fair to say that some people rely on the companionship of their animals a great deal. For these people, the pets provide an important service; however, they may not qualify as a service animal by law. A service animal has these specific qualities:

  • It must be a dog.
  • It is trained to perform a specific task.
  • The task the dog performs must correspond with the disability of the dog's owner.

Some dogs alert to noises for people with hearing impairments, and others lift and carry items for those with spinal injuries or arthritis. In most cases, however, emotional support animals have no special training. Such animals may not even be dogs. They may simply be effective in providing companionship and a therapeutic presence for those who suffer from depression, anxiety or other similar conditions.

What does the law say about emotional support animals?

While California laws regarding emotional support animals are rather generous, defining emotional support dogs with the same definition as service dogs, you should be aware that many states are not as accommodating. Additionally, federal law does not require any business to allow the same entrance to an emotional support animal that it offers a service animal. The exceptions are airplane cabins and rental units covered by the Fair Housing Act, which must allow entry to these animals.

On the other hand, you do not have to allow an animal -- whether a service dog or emotional support animal -- to remain in your establishment if the animal poses a threat or is not under the control of its owner. If you are uncertain of your rights and responsibilities regarding the ADA, checking with an attorney is a wise decision. A lawyer can advise you on the most current California laws regarding the admittance of service animals to your business.