FAQs about the ADA’s legal requirements for service animals

Here are some of the most Frequently Asked Questions on service animal issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA.

What qualifies as a “service animal?”
Businesses . . . may ask only two questions of individuals regarding their service animals . . .

Under the ADA, a dog or miniature horse that “is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability” qualifies as a service animal. The “work” or “tasks” performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. For example, the service animal might pull a wheelchair, guide a visually impaired person, or assist an individual with psychiatric disabilities.

Comfort animals and pets are NOT service animals. Comfort animals merely provide emotional support and are not individually trained to assist with a disability.

What can you ask a customer who enters your business with an animal?

Businesses and their representatives who come in contact with the public may ask only two questions of individuals regarding their service animals:

  1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

What businesses may NOT ask:
Is my business required to provide service animal care such as food or a place for the animal to relieve itself?
Businesses may not ask anything else. For example, they may NOT ask

  • For proof of training or license for the service animal;
  • For the guest to explain or verify his/her disability;
  • For a demonstration of the service animal’s training or abilities.

Do you have to alter your establishment to accommodate service animals?

A public accommodation is not required to accommodate a service animal when doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business.
Examples: The following do NOT qualify as fundamental alterations:

  • Accommodation of a service animal at a restaurant or location that serves food (even if health codes prohibit animals).
  • Accommodation at a busy sports facility.

Can we deny service animals if others are allergic?Example: The following would qualify as a “fundamental alteration” and does not have to be accommodated:

  • A service dog that is actively barking at a cinema or theater.

Common questions and answers about service animals:

  • Allergies: Can we deny service animals if others are allergic?  NO.
  • Fear: Can we deny service animals if others are afraid of dogs in general?  NO.
  • Care: Is my business required to provide service animal care such as food or a place for the animal to relieve itself?  NO.


Martin OlrickMartin H. Orlick is one of the top ADA defense lawyers in the country. He has helped hotels, restaurants, retailers, shopping centers, banks and other commercial property owners defend more than 600 ADA cases. In addition to defending lawsuits and governmental investigations, Marty’s team of ADA specialists focuses on enterprise-wide ADA compliance and litigation prevention, including facilities, website and operational compliance. Marty is the Chair of JMBM’s ADA Compliance & Defense Group, a Partner in JMBM’s Real Estate Group, and a member of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers (ACREL). For more information about ADA compliance and defense, contact Marty Orlick at 415.984.9667 or morlick@jmbm.com.