We have heard a lot in the news and social media about people traveling with “service animals” of all types, fro peacocks to snakes, in this article I will lay out the law , so to speak!
Just like you cannot deny someone that uses a wheelchair access to a hotel because they might soil the carpet with their wheelchair, places cannot deny access to a disabled person that requires a service animal. Now, the term “service animal” has been used very loosely and lightly over the last few years and its unfortunate!
I will explain what exactly a legal service animal is, and how you can travel with it!
Keep in mind I am NOT an attorney, I am giving my lay advice as a frequent traveler with a service animal.
What is a Service Animal?
The answer you get to this question will depend what agency you ask. Although similar, the definition varies throughout the various federal agencies. Keep in mind, no sole agency determines this, and depending on where you are is what rule or law applies . Here are a few examples of how a service animal is defined by statute, rule and/or law:
- US Department of Justice, Interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities act: Dogs and miniature horses that are individually trained to do work, or perform tasks for people with disabilities. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. NOTE: This interpretation changed in 2011 to include ONLY dogs and some miniature horses.
- Air Carrier Access Act & 14 CFR Part 382: ANY ANIMAL that is trained OR able to provide assistance to a qualified person with a disability; OR ANY ANIMAL , shown by documentation to be necessary for the emotional well being of a passenger.
The ADA mainly covers access to buildings and public space , and the ACAA covers you flying. Loosely interpreted by a lay person, But getting to and going through the airport, and staying in hotels, the ADA is relevant, and once getting on and flying on the plane the ACAA is relevant. Both have overlapping regulation and protections, but you get the basic idea.
As you can see the ADA is less protective and more restrictive as to what kind of animal , (Dog and some miniature horses), as well as they EXCLUDE emotional support animals, UNLESS they are “individually trained to do work, or perform task for a person with disabilities“.
NOTE: Neither the ADA or ACAA require professional training!
NOTE: Service Animals DO NOT have to wear vest or patch, although I recommend it, as it might save you from some questions.
What is Considered a Disabled or Covered Person?
SO we know WHAT a service animal is, now we will touch on who can have one! Needless to say, just saying you have a service dog for the sake of taking a pet is not appropriate and is not enough to justify a service dog.
“Individual with a disability means any individual who has a physical or mental impairment that, on a permanent or temporary basis, substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”
The ACAA lays out , and defines this even further in the text of the act HERE.
“An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment”
In lay terms, one must have been diagnosed, or even misdiagnosed or know to be afflicted by a covered disability that requires the service of an animal to function and have access to the same places and things as non disabled Americans. This is pretty much it. Some states have enacted laws making it a petty crime to lie about being disabled, but in general just saying you are disabled is “legally” enough, but again, I am NOT advocating for FALSE “service animals claims”, just laying out the facts.
This is a tricky topic, but in general, most people cannot ask for physical proof (documents) that you are disabled, and / or if your animal is properly trained to perform a particular task. There is a caveat, “emotional support animals”, although not recognized under ADA (unless trained for a specific job or task related to the persons disability), the ACAA DOES in fact recognize them, but lets airlines ask for more info. I will go more into this below.
In some instances, airline, hotel or transportation employees may ask certain questions to determine if you are eligible for accommodation under either of these acts, those questions include:
- “What tasks or functions does your animal perform for you?” ,or
- “What has it been trained to do for you?”
- “Would you describe how the animal performs this task (or function) for you?”
- “Is this a Service Animal?”
Anything more than this is inappropriate , and probably ILLEGAL!
They CANNOT Ask “what is your disability?”!
Emotional Support Animals (ESA)
Like I mentioned before, emotional support animals are treated a bit differently. These animals are not trained to do a job or perform a task related to the persons disability, but they only provide comfort. The ADA does NOT recognize these animals (again, unless they are trained). The ACAA does in fact, but allows the airlines to require certain documentation. This documentation is the following:
- A letter from your licensed mental health professional (Doctor, counselor, therapist, etc).
- A certification from your Veterinarian that your animal is up to date on vaccinations and is in good health.
- A Certification from YOU or anyone that your animal is “trained to behave in a public setting”
This is pretty much all the airlines can ask you for, but remember, these documents are ONLY required if:
- You are not a covered person with a disability, and / or
- Your animal is NOT trained to provide a specific job or task, related to your disability.
Although, like I mentioned before, airlines have to follow the Law and rules set forth , they each have policy’s and airline specific forms when it comes to Service animals, and especially ESA’s! I will provide a link to 5 airlines policies regarding this.
we have unfortunately seen bad news lately with airlines and animals, both Service and Pets. Check the specific airlines policy BEFORE you fly because even though the LAW may be on your side, you don’t want to get stranded in the meantime with your service animal because you didn’t cross a T for dot an i.
Obviously if you travel you will more than likely need to stay in a hotel, and since your Service animal is NOT a “Pet” you DO NOT have to inquire about “Pet” policy or fees.
Service animals in hotels are covered under the ADA. And basically if you are a qualified person with a qualified animal under ADA, then you can come and go just like you would without a service animal.
What Hotels CAN do:
- Ask if your Animal is a service animal. (ONLY if its not OBVIOUSLY a service animal, i,e, vest, etc)
- Ask what type of service your animal provides.
- Charge you extra ONLY if you, or your Service Animal causes damage.
What Hotels CANNOT do:
- Ask what your disability is.
- Refuse you access to ANY rooms or areas you would have access to without the service animal.(If you qualify for a Suite upgrade, then you cannot be denied just because you have a service animal).
- Charge you more (Unless your Service Dog or you cause damage).
- Put you in “dog -friendly” rooms, or “special” rooms for animals. (You cannot be segregated because of your disability)
- Require Certification of any type! (can ONLY ASK what TASK your animal performs)
Remember the ADA and ACAA are different, and Hotels fall under the ADA so certain laws and rules are different. But just remember, you are just as important as any other hotel guest, and you CANNOT be discriminated against just because you REQUIRE a service animal.
Restaurants and ANY Other Public Place
Its very simple, if you and your animal is covered under ADA rules as I’ve outlined above, YOU CAN GO ANYWHERE.. PERIOD!
Links to Laws, Rules and Informational Sites
I recommend you do your own research as I did , and get all your answers questioned. I will provide certain links for you to do that.
- ADA Frequently Asked Questions , ADA.gov.
- ACAA, CFR, Part 384 FULL TEXT.
- US Department of Transportation Flyer on Service Animals.
- ADA Guide to Disability Rights
- Service Dog Definition Matrix for Many Federal agencies (Very Handy)
Remember to research state law also! Although Federal law always trumps state laws, the state laws may benefit you!
- Know the law
- know the policies
- Be responsible for any damage your animal might do
- Be courteous and respectful to staff and other travelers
- Clean up any messes
- try to not disturb anyone if at all possible!
- Be a responsible traveler!
Although there has been abuse of the system that everyone talks about, Service animals are a needed accommodation for many people! Some people may say they are allergic to dogs, or they are being bothered, but remember, not all allergies rise to the level of DISABILITY, and the person with the service dog HAS a disability, I think the disabled person trumps the sniffles or rude person that doesn’t like dogs. Sorry for your inconvenience people, disabled people are probably experiencing much worse on a daily bases and as Americans they have the SAME RIGHTS AS EVERYONE ELSE! This is what makes our great country so special!
People bring up the fact that people didn’t use to have so many “service animals” , or Service animals used to ONLY be seeing eye dogs. I say to that, that technology, and culture advance. We used to categorize gay people as mentally ill also, things change, quit griping and be more understanding!
Again, I will say I am NOT a lawyer, but all the information I provided is accessible online to everyone, I just helped you find it! Please do your own research!
Thank you for reading, and PLEASE, TRAVEL MORE!