Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), a “service animal” is only a dog that is individually trained, works or performs tasks for individuals with physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disabilities. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.
It is important for the hospitality industry to understand what qualifies are a service animal under the ADA. The ADA does not recognize comfort animals, therapy animals, or companion animals. An animal whose sole function is to provide therapy is not a “service animal” under ADA.
How to verify?
In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.
The ADA requires that service animals be under the control of the handler at all times. In most instances, the handler will be the individual with a disability or a third party who accompanies the individual with a disability. The service animal must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered while in public places unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the person’s disability prevents use of these devices. In that case, the person must use voice, signal, or other effective means to maintain control of the animal.
For example, a person who uses a wheelchair may use a long, retractable leash to allow her service animal to pick up or retrieve items. She may not allow the dog to wander away from her and must maintain control of the dog, even if it is retrieving an item at a distance from her. Or, a returning veteran who has PTSD and has great difficulty entering unfamiliar spaces may have a dog that is trained to enter a space, check to see that no threats are there, and come back and signal that it is safe to enter. The dog must be off leash to do its job, but may be leashed at other times. Under control also means that a service animal should not be allowed to bark repeatedly in a lecture hall, theater, library, or other quiet place. However, if a dog barks just once, or barks because someone has provoked it, this would not mean that the dog is out of control.
There are specific rules under the ADA that are tailored specifically to hoteliers and public service accommodations. Please contact us, your business law attorneys for more information. Staying informed helps limit ingenuine service animals and support and welcome your guests and comply with ADA.