Service Animals

Service animals are individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. Service animals may do such things as guide a person who is blind; pick up or fetch things for a person with a physical impairment; act as "medic alert" animals for people with seizure disorders, heart problems, or hearing impairments; or perform a variety of functions for people with psychiatric disabilities. Service animals are not pets; they are working animals.

As of March 15, 2011, the definition of a service animal under Title II (State and Local Government) and Title III (Public Accommodations) of  the ADA includes only dogs. These new rules also say, however, that public accommodations and government entities must make reasonable modification for miniature horses, as these are an alternative to service dogs.
No other types of animal, whether wild or domestic, are considered service animals under the ADA.

Please note that some states, cities, and/or counties do have different definitions of what a service animal is. If this definition is more broad than the ADA definition, it may supersede the ADA. Check out our Service Animal Comparison Sheet for info on Region 10 service animal law.

In the workplace, service animals do not have a definition in the way that they do under Titles II and III of the ADA. Rather, they are considered a "reasonable accommodation." Further information about service animals in the workplace is available in our Employer Toolkit.

Service Animal Facts

  • Service animals do not have to have any kind of certification or identification, and by law they are not required to wear any type of vest or any other gear that identifies them as a service animal.
  • Any business that serves the public must allow service animals, regardless of any "no pets" policy that they may have.
  • The only questions a public entity may ask a service animal handler is:

1) Do you have a disability (a yes/no question)?
2) What tasks does the animal perform?

No one may ask, "What is your disability?"

  • Service animal handlers can only be asked to remove their service animal from a place of public accommodation if the animal poses a direct threat (i.e. they bite someone, are dirty/have fleas, are disruptive for a reason unrelated to their task as a service animal).
  • Service animal handlers are responsible for cleaning up after their service animals.
  • Under the Fair Housing Act, service animals, as well as comfort or companion animals, must be allowed in multi-family rental buildings (i.e. an apartment), regardless of any "no pets" policy. Additionally, no pet deposit may be charged, even if one is normally charged for animals living in the establishment.

Each state and federal law has different rules with regard to service animal law.

Fact Sheets

Northwest ADA Center: Service Animals: Frequently Asked Questions

Northwest ADA Center: Service Animal Comparison Sheet

Northwest ADA Center: Service Animals as an Employment Accommodation

ADA National Network: Service Animals (HTML) (PDF)

ADA National Network: Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals: Where are they allowed and under what conditions? (HTML) (PDF)

Department of Justice: Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and the ADA

Department of Justice: Service Animals   (PDF)

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law: Fair Housing Information Sheet #6: Right to Emotional Support Animals in "No Pet" Housing

MIUSA: Getting Your Service Animal Into a Foreign Country


Pet Partners: Service Animal Basics

Service Dog Central

Assistance Dog International: Guide to Assistance Dog Laws (2012)

JAN: Accommodation and Compliance Series: Service Animals in the Workplace

International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP): Service Dog Tasks for Psychiatric Disabilities

Guide Horse Foundation

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Pet Ownership for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities: Final Rule

Northwest ADA Center webinar archive: Service Animal Basics  DOC  PDF

State of Oregon: Service Animal Organizations That Serve Oregon  PDF

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