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Service & Assistance Animals

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What Defines Service and Assistance Animals

Service Animals:
A service animal is a dog or miniature horse that has been individually trained to do work or perform specific tasks for an individual with a disability. People are generally most familiar with guide dogs for blind individuals, but animals can be trained to perform other tasks. For example, a service dog could be trained to let a person with diabetes know when their blood sugar levels were becoming too low.  

Assistance Animals: Assistance animals refer to any animal that provides support, comfort or other assistance to their owner that is directly related to their disability. Assistance animals are not pets; however, they do not have to be trained to perform specific tasks. For example, an emotional support animal provides comfort to an individual with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Knowing Your Rights in Public Accommodations

Service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and are allowed to accompany individuals in public and private spaces. The ADA requires federal and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations that provide goods or services to the public to make reasonable changes in their policies, practices, and/or procedures to accommodate people with disabilities. Assistance animals are not protected under the ADA and are not allowed to accompany individuals into public accommodations, unless that facility allows pets.

For Business and Public Accommodations
When a person with a service animal enters a public facility or place of public accommodation, they can’t be asked about the nature or extent of their disability.

They can only be asked these questions if the reason why they have a service animal is not obvious:

  • Is the dog/miniature horse a service animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the dog/miniature horse been trained to perform?

Your Rights In Housing

The Fair Housing Act and Section 504 allow owners of assistance and service animals to request a reasonable accommodation that allows these animals to reside with them in housing. In order for a reasonable accommodation to be made, the owner must have a disability. Housing providers can request documentation that verifies you have a disability and that your service or assistance animal assists with your disability. However, this information can’t be required if the disability and reason for the assistance or service animal is obvious.

Reasonable Accommodations For Housing Providers
A reasonable accommodation is defined as a change in a rule, policy, practice or procedure that doesn’t fundamentally alter the purpose of the institution. A housing provider is only entitled to obtain information that is necessary to evaluate if a requested reasonable accommodation may be necessary because of a disability. If the disability and relationship between the disability and the assistance or service animal are obvious, the provider may not seek additional information.

Verification of a disability for a reasonable accommodation may be provided by a medical professional, a peer support group, a non-medical agency or a reliable third party. The verification only needs to establish that the person has a disability and that the assistance animal helps with their disability. A housing provider can’t request a detailed medical history or overly specific medical information. Housing providers can’t require persons with disabilities to pay extra fees or deposits as a condition of receiving a reasonable accommodation.

Grounds for Exclusion 
Service animals must be kept under control and can be excluded if their presence would fundamentally alter the service provided (i.e. they can be restricted from zoo areas in which natural predators of dogs are housed). An individual can be asked to remove their service animal from the premises if the animal isn’t housebroken or if the animal is out of control and they fail to take effective action to control it. If this happens, staff must offer the individual an opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence in the facility.

Overview: Service and Assistance Animals


Dog or Miniature Horse
No breed restrictions apply

Any animal
No breed restrictions apply


Americans with Disabilities Act
Fair Housing Act
Section 504

Fair Housing Act
Section 504


All public accommodations and housing

Housing and anywhere that allows pets


Filing a Descrimination Complaint

If you experience discrimination based on having an assistance or service animal, you have the right to file a complaint. You can file a complaint with the following agencies:

  • For discrimination that occurs in housing or public accommodations in the Washington, DC metro, you can file a complaint with the Equal Rights Center at 202-234-3062 or [email protected].
  • For discrimination that occurs in housing or public accommodations in the District of Columbia, you can file a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights.
  • For discrimination in housing nationwide, you can file a complaint with HUD.
  • For an ADA-based discrimination in public accommodations nationwide, you can file a complaint with the DOJ.

This content was developed through a collaboration with the Equal Rights Center.

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