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Frequently Asked Questions - Public Access

Generally guide, hearing and service dogs are permitted to accompany their disabled owner everywhere members of the public are allowed, but there are a few exceptions. For example, a member of the public would be permitted in the dining area of a restaurant, but not in the kitchen. Therefore, a guide dog would be permitted to accompany his disabled owner in the dining area of a restaurant.
It is also an important distinction to note that it is the handler who has access rights and not the dog. A guide dog without his blind handler has no particular access rights of his own and neither does a hearing dog or other service dog without his disabled handler.
"Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. This federal law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos." -- U.S Department of Justice.
For clarification, contact the U.S. Department of Justice's ADA Information Line at 800 - 514 - 0301 (voice) or 800 - 514 - 0383 (TTY)
In the U.S., according to the Department of Justice's Business Brief concerning Service Animals, business owners/managers can ask 2 specific questions. 1) Is this a service dog required because of a disability? and 2) What task(s) is the dog trained to perform? If these questions are not appropriately answered, the business may exclude the animal, but not the person.
Though service animals of all kinds can legally accompany their disabled handler almost anywhere the handler goes, they can be excluded from areas where their presence would constitute either a fundamental alteration of goods and services available for all or a direct threat to safety. Examples where a service animal might be excluded include:

-Sterile rooms, such as operating rooms, some areas of emergency rooms/departments, some ICU rooms, some ambulances, some delivery rooms (on a case-by-case basis)
-Clean rooms where microchips are manufactured
-Places where food is prepared (though they cannot generally be excluded from dining areas where food is present) (by order of most health departments)
-Open air zoological exhibits, such as open air aviaries (at the zoo's discretion)
-Churches (at the church's discretion)
-Native American Tribal Council Chambers (at the council's discretion)
-Federal Courts (at the judge's discretion)
-Jail or prison cells (at the discretion of the facility director)
-Private clubs (at the club's discretion)
-Private homes (at the home owner's discretion)
So far, this discussion is centered entirely on laws of access in the United States of America. Other countries will have their own laws in place regarding the access rights of individuals accompanied by a service animal.

It depends on the age of the dog and where the dog is in training. If he has the fundamentals down and is working on proofing (performing learned behaviors in spite of distraction) then an active place like a busy shopping center might be a good place to find those distractions to practice ignoring.

If it's a pup being socialized and he's confident and outgoing, a busy shopping center gives ample opportunity to meet new people.

The key is to do it at the right points in the dog's development or training. Overfacing a dog by putting them into a situation too stressful or too distracting for them to process will only slow or damage socialization or training.

Remember that a vest doesn't make a dog a service dog. Claiming a dog is a service dog when you are not disabled, or when the dog is not individually trained to perform tasks that mitigate your disability is a criminal offense that can result in fines and or jail time.

Most legitimate teams get their vests from the programs that train their dogs. Those who are qualified to train dogs for themselves (ie have the experience and skill), generally know where to get the gear.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires zoos to modify their policies regarding outside animals to permit the use of a service animal. However, the zoo is permitted to restrict service animals from open air exhibits, such as aviaries visitors can enter and interact with the exhibits.

The short answer: It is up to the individual business to decide whether or not to permit their shopping carts to be used for transporting dogs, including service dogs. They are not required to permit it and in some cases might not be able to permit it even if they wanted to due to local health codes.

Also see
Must stores permit a service dog to ride in a shopping cart?
Is it okay to have a small service dog in your lap in a restaurant or in a pouch/purse/carrier in a restaurant or grocery store?
Special considerations for owners of small or large service dogs

Don't choose aisle seating. People crawl over you to get down the row or trip over your dog in the aisle because they aren't looking where they are going or can't see the dog because the lights are down. Choose putting him on the floor under your feet even if it is a squeeze over putting him in an aisle.

Center of the row is generally best because fewer people will try to squeeze past to seats on the other side of you. If there is a seat available next to an empty wheelchair slot, that's ideal because you can put your dog out of foot traffic in the wheel chair slot. Take a light colored towel or rug for him to lie on. They're hard to see in the dark and the light colored mat makes them a bit more visible. It also keeps them from getting sticky from sodas spilled on the floor.

Oh, and if any performers will be going out into the audience, give the director a heads up a dog will be there. Mr. Mephisto from Cats would have gotten quite a shock whizzing around a wall to stare at us with glowing eyes if he hadn't been warned in advance that he'd come face-to-face with a German Shepherd (who was harmless). Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie came close to creaming my dog at another performance walking down the aisle in the dark singing. That's how I learned the hard way not to put them in the aisle.

The first clue is the animal's demeanor and behavior. A service animal should be very well behaved and obedient. A dog who wanders around at the end of the leash aimlessly probably isn't a service animal.
If you still aren't certain, you can ask the animal's owner if it is a service dog. Businesses are permitted to ask whether an animal is a service animal, and what tasks the animal is trained to perform that the human handler cannot do for themselves. The business is not, however, permitted to ask for information about the specific nature of the person's disability or other invasive questions. If an animal is not trained to perform tasks to mitigate the handler's disability, then it isn't a service animal under the ADA.
Guide dogs usually wear a special leather harness that helps them to guide their owner. In addition to the harness, the owner will also use a leash for controlling and directing the dog. Most other types of service animal wear some sort of marking such as a vest or cape, or special gear, like a harness. However, not all service dogs will wear special markings. Under the ADA, they aren't required to be marked. Unfortunately, the presence or absence of a cape or gear alone doesn't make it clear whether or not an animal is really a service animal.
Unfortunately there are unscrupulous people who buy gear over the Internet to try to pass their pets off as service animals. Sadly, this is also true with certification. Anyone can forge their own certification or purchase fake certification over the Internet for their pets. Many states have begun taking steps to prosecute those who falsely claim their pets as service animals with stiff fines and jail time.

A service animal can be removed from a business when its presence constitutes a fundamental alteration of the goods or services offered by the business. For example, a service dog that howls during a concert interferes with the performance of the concert and can be excluded. A service animal that misbehaves and makes unwanted contact with other patrons or is otherwise disruptive due to poor behavior can be removed. If a service animal is removed, the business must still offer their goods and services to the owner of the service animal, even if the animal itself must remain outside.

Service animals can also be removed if they pose a direct threat to the safety of others by barking, lunging, growling, snarling, or lunging at others.

No. Churches are exempt from the ADA. The only exception would be if the church opened their facilities for a public event, such as a bazaar or pancake supper where items are sold and the general public are permitted to enter.

Service animals should be permitted in the waiting areas of emergency rooms.

However, it is at the discretion of treating physicians whether a service animal should be permitted in a treatment area. This determination must be made on a case-by-case basis based solely on whether the presence of that particular animal, in that particular place, at that particular time poses a direct threat to a person. It cannot be a perceived threat ("sometimes dogs bite") or based on past experience ("another service dog acted up") but must be a cognizable real threat ("I have a patient with serious open wounds and the presence of any loose dog hair or dander may cause dangerous infection of the wounds").

A service animal may also be excluded if its presence fundamentally alters the ability of the hospital to provide emergency services, for example if there isn't room to safely work around the dog without tripping or slowing treatment.

While many programs train their dogs to ride escalators there are many accidents each year involving sudden toe amputation. In the U.S., wherever there is an escalator there is also an elevator. It is generally safest to take the elevator instead to avoid risk of injury to the dog.

The Americans With Disabilities Act generally requires businesses, including food establishments, to modify policies to permit service animals to accompany their disabled handler wherever the general public are allowed. The general rule of thumb where food is involved is that where special clothing is not required a service animal must be permitted. Where special clothing is required, such as food preparation areas, a service animal may be excluded and in fact must be excluded if necessary to comply with health statutes or ordinances.

Since a typical patron of a restaurant isn't asked to don a hairnet, latex gloves and an apron while in the dining area of the establishment, a service animal (including a guide dog) should be permitted to accompany a disabled handler there.

It's time to go to corporate headquarters. But don't call them. Send them your complaint in writing and request a written reply within 10 business days. Why? Because you are now at the point where you need to carefully document your interactions with them. If you talk to them in person or on the phone and there is a later dispute about who said what, it will be their word against yours. In a case of discrimination like this, if it comes down to your word against theirs your case will be dropped (it's your burden to prove discrimination occurred).

Send them a copy of this document:
http://www.ada.gov/svcanimb.htm

And suggest they consult the U.S. Department of Justice's toll-free ADA information line (800 - 514 - 0301) to learn about their rights and obligations under federal laws that protect the disabled, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If you do not receive a reply within 15 business days, send your letter again, but this time send it certified, return receipt requested. That will prevent them from claiming they never received your letter, and put them on notice you are serious.

If it still isn't resolved, go to your state's human rights commission. You could complain to the U.S. Department of Justice, but it takes about three times as long to get a case through them as it does to get the case handled at the state level. The DOJ is also very selective about which cases they take on and won't take on yours unless they see a pattern of discrimination (receive complaints from several different people each having a similar experience).

You can find information about contacting your state's human rights commission, attorney general, and a bunch of info on various state laws at Service Dog Central's collection of service dog law information:
http://www.servicedogcentral.org/content/node/51

Throughout the process it is essential that you maintain your cool. Be very polite. Remember that anything you write, say or do could be examined by a judge if this complaint goes to court. You'll want to show by your behavior that you were being reasonable and they were being unreasonable.

You always have the option to pursue it privately in civil court, but the last time I got an estimate on a case I was quoted $7,000 up front in attorney's fees. If you go through a government enforcement agency, such as your state's human rights commission or the U.S. Department of Justice, that agency will pick up the costs of taking it to court instead of you.

A service dog may generally accompany his disabled handler any where in a public accommodation where the public are permitted with certain exceptions. The service animal may be excluded if it poses a direct threat or fundamental alteration of the services offered by the public accommodation.

For example, on a case-by-case basis a ambulance crew may decide not to permit a service animal in the treatment area of an ambulance if lack of space means the dog would interfere with the necessary movement of personnel providing emergency care. That might be a "fundamental alteration" if the presence of the dog prevents the emergency workers from performing their jobs.

A service animal might be excluded from an area that requires special clothing, such as a hospital ICU (Intensive Care Unit), or a computer "clean room," where the tiniest particle can ruin the manufacture of computer chips. A service animal might be excluded from an area where zoo exhibits can come in direct contact with human visitors, such as an aviary. On a case-by-case basis, a service animal might be removed if its presence is frightening a zoo exhibit to the point of harming the exhibit.

Service animals may also be excluded from places that are not public accommodations, including but not limited to worship services of a church, private clubs, some Native American facilities, and military bases.

The exceptions are few, but they do exist. The keys in evaluating whether a service animal should be permitted in a given area are:

1. Would the presence of this specific animal pose a direct (known and not just hypothesized) threat in this specific instance, not based on past experiences with other service animals or dogs in general?
2. Would the presence of this specific animal fundamentally alter the goods or services provided by the public accommodation?
3. Is there some reasonable accommodation possible? Reasonable accommodation is the art of compromise. Is there is a readily achievable solution which permits the person with a disability to access goods and services, and which does not constitute an undue hardship on the business?

The short answer is: No, businesses do not have to permit dogs, including service dogs, in the shopping carts owned by the business.


This is partly an issue of fundamental alteration and partly one of reasonableness. It is also an issue of professionalism and image.

From http://www.ada.gov/t3hilght.htm

Public accommodations must ... make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures that deny equal access to individuals with disabilities, unless a fundamental alteration would result in the nature of the goods and services provided.

The fundamental purpose of the cart is to transport merchandise, not dogs. Co-opting the cart from that purpose to transport a dog changes the nature of the service being provided (the cart).

In addition, the the business is not required to provide services or equipment for the dog, just to permit the dog to accompany the disabled owner the dog is trained to assist.
From http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm

9. Q: Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?

A: No. The care or supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of his or her owner. You are not required to provide care or food or a special location for the animal.

Except for airports, businesses are not required to provide toileting facilities for dogs either. They don't have to provide food, water, or dishes for the dog to eat or drink out of. If they aren't required to do any of that for service dogs in general, why would they be required to provide equipment to transport the dog while in their business?

Consider the scooters, power chairs, electric or manual wheelchairs or other mobility devices many large stores provide for customer use. They are not required to do that. It is a courtesy some stores choose to provide as part of their customer service to make the store more appealing to more potential customers. They aren't required to provide transportation equipment for the human with a disability, and neither are they required to provide it for the person's dog.

Remember that public access laws are about access for the person with a disability. Whether or not the animal is permitted in the cart does not affect the person's access to goods and services. It therefore becomes an issue of reasonableness. The person with the service animal must have some way to manage their dog when in a public accommodation that does not offer shopping carts. (Some examples of accommodations that do not offer shopping carts include restaurants, offices, hospitals, movie theaters, and hotels.) Therefore there must be some reasonable alternative to putting the dog in the shopping cart if the store objects.

If a business gives permission for the individual to use the carts to transport their dog while inside the business, that's between that business and that team. The business can give that permission if they choose to do so but they are not required to do so. Some local health codes may not permit it and some grocery stores or customers in grocery stores may object to having them in the child seat just as some restaurants would object to having them on the table. You can argue whether a dog is different from a diapered child with the business if you like but you still need their permission.

There are two remaining considerations.

First, putting a dog in a cart raises the dog higher than even a traditional sized dog would stand on the floor. This substantially increases the range where hair and dander from the dog can be deposited. Here is a basic formula for calculating where falling things that do not drop straight to the ground may be deposited. Measure the highest point of the dog from the ground. Now in your head mark a point directly below that highest point and inscribe it with a circle of a radius equal to the dog's height from the ground. For example, if the dog's ear tip is three feet above the floor, then hair and dander can be deposited any where within a cone with a three foot radius at the base (on the ground) and a tip at the tip of the dog's ear. In order to prevent hair and dander from falling on fresh food, refrigerated or frozen food (which attract hair and dander), or ready to eat food, the dog must be positioned at all times so that that imaginary cone does not come in contact with those types of food. Raising a dog off the floor increases the bubble you need to maintain between that dog and food.

Second, carrying a dog or putting it in a shopping cart is not professional. It brings into question the legitimacy of the dog as a service dog because so many pet owners treat their dogs like fashion accessories. It also increases skepticism for other kinds of service dogs when businesses start seeing an increase in the number of dogs being brought in that really don't look like service dogs. It makes life especially difficult for those people with legitimate service dogs that happen to be small and significantly increases the likelihood and frequency of access issues for the person putting their dog in the cart.

Also see
Special considerations for owners of small or large service dogs
Is it okay to have a small service dog in your lap in a restaurant or in a pouch/purse/carrier in a restaurant or grocery store?

Generally, no, but in some cases an exception may be made with permission from the business owner.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, access rights are based on "reasonable accommodations." While the US Department of Justice has not issued any guidance one way or the other on this specific issue, you can apply the principle of "reasonableness" to any situation to see whether the ADA permits/requires it or not.

Let's do that here. We have competing interests.
1. The health department has regulations about live animals being near food which makes it illegal in most areas for restaurants and grocery stores to permit pets into their facilities. An exception is made for service animals under reasonable accommodation under the assumption that the risk is minimal.
2. The business has an interest in activities that cost them customers. The public "ick" factor for a dog at or near table level is significantly higher than for one on the floor under the table.
3. A person with a small dog may prefer to keep their dog in their lap, but it is not an absolute necessity.

Reasonable accommodation means that you take ALL interests into account when evaluating a specific situation, not just whether the individual with a disability thinks it is reasonable from their perspective, but whether it is reasonable for all. The first item on our list addresses an issue that falls under "direct threat," because the health department has stated there is a sanitary and health risk of food contamination if live animals are near food. An exception has traditionally been made for service animals based on the long history of guide dogs, who are always on the floor, tucked under tables, and as far away from the food as possible. The risk of food contamination when the dog is on the floor is very minimal. This is where normal pet owners have their pets during human mealtimes, if not completely out of the dining area. Putting a service dog in a lap is significantly pushing the envelope of safety on this issue.

The second item on the list is an example of "undue burden." While some customers may leave because of the mere presence of the service animal, it is not possible to accommodate the disabled patron at all without the service animal. That situation falls in the favor of the person with the service dog. However, in the case of having the dog close to the food, the balance shifts. The business will lose even more customers, but for something that is not strictly necessary. This is unreasonable because it creates an undue (avoidable and excessive) burden for the business person. However, if the business owner has no objection to the dog in a person's lap and is willing to do additional cleaning to satisfy health department regulations, then the business is permitted to make an exception IF THEY WISH. They don't have to.

Now we examine the third item, or an individual service dog owner's wish to have their service dog in their lap. This is not strictly necessary. A small service dog can sit or lie under the table just the same as a service dog of any other size. Their size alone does not make it necessary for them to be in a lap. It is sometimes claimed that this is a safety issue because smaller dogs are at greater risk on the floor than larger dogs. In fact, a small service dog is far safer under the table than is a larger service dog because he is less likely to have body parts extend out from under the table to get trampled. So there is no reason to treat small service dogs differently for safety.

Some owners will claim that their dog is not able to work from the floor. Since there is no legitimate job a small service dog can do that a larger one cannot also do, including "alerting," this is a problem of the owner's own creation. If they failed to train the dog to be able to work from the floor, that is their fault and within their power to correct. It is not reasonable to expect a restaurant to compensate for the handler's lack of foresight or poor choice in dog.

Most legitimate small breed service dogs are perfectly capable of working from the floor, including heeling and long stays, exactly the same as their larger counterparts. There are some limitations, including an increased risk of injury in crowded environments when it may be prudent to lift the dog from the floor and carry it until the crowd thins out. A smaller service dog will not be able to heel as long, as far, or as fast as a larger service dog can. This is an obvious flaw in their use as service dogs that the potential owner should consider carefully when making their choice of a service dog. If you choose a dog with limitations, then you are stuck with those limitations and you are responsible for dealing with the consequences of your choice. There is no task or disability that specifically requires that the dog be tiny. It is a personal preference, a personal choice, with consequences. A person is free to make that choice, but they are not free to inflict added burdens on others because of that choice.

Now we get to the issue of small dogs in shopping carts, pouches, or other carriers that hold the dog high off the floor while shopping in grocery stores. The purpose of the shopping cart is to carry groceries and small children. It is a courtesy provided by the store for its customers because shopping carts will encourage them to stay longer and purchase more. Carts are not there as a convenience to service dog owners. A public accommodation is not required to provide you with equipment to care for or utilize your service dog. If your dog is capable of working without a shopping cart in other venues, such as offices, stores, theaters, etc., then it is capable of doing so in a grocery store as well. If an individual store gives permission for the service dog to ride in the cart it is permitted, so long as it does not also violate health codes.

It is permissible for a service dog to be carried by hand or in a carrier about the owner's chest in SOME areas of a grocery store, such as areas with canned and commercially packaged foods displayed on shelves. It is not reasonable to hold a service dog above the edge of a display of fresh food (such as vegetables or meats) which are in a cooler or bin that you might lean over to reach the food. It is not reasonable to hold the dog above the edge of a buffet style display where customers serve themselves, such as a take-home salad or food bar. This would permit hair and dander to fall onto the food and contaminate it. A rule of thumb is that whatever height the dog is from the floor, that is the distance the dog should be away from any open display of fresh foods. If the dog is three and a half feet off the floor and on the handler's person, then the dog and handler should not get within three and a half feet of the open display. This will prevent hair and dander from being deposited on food in the open display.

By the same token, large dogs that are able to see over the edge of the open display should never be permitted to look over the edge of the display, and should be worked from the side of the handler that is furthest from the display, such that the handler is between the dog and the display.

YES. While businesses are generally permitted only to ask whether the dog is a service animal required because of disability and what the animal has been trained to do, there are instances when more extensive proof can be required.

If you file a complaint about discrimination, proof of disability and proof of training will be required. If you appear in court and you claim to be disabled and claim your dog is a service dog as part of the case you are involved in, then you will have to provide proof that your claims are true. A court will not simply take your word for it.

If you are arrested for trespass for bringing an animal into a place where pets are not permitted, your affirmative defense may be that the animal in question is a service dog, but again, you will have to prove that is the case.

Proof may include:
Medical records from any medical providers treating you for your disability or for aspects of your disability.
SSDI determination.
SD certification from a recognized/accredited program.
Training logs if owner-trained.
Independent evaluation of your dog's training by a qualified trainer.
Certificates attesting to training and temperament, such a training class completion certificates, an obedience title or certificate, a CGC certificate, etc.
Video demonstrations of the dog's training.
In person demonstrations of the dog's training.

See also: http://www.adagreatlakes.org/Publications/Legal_Briefs/BriefNo015Service...