Articles Posted in Service Animals

Emotional Support Animals Now Banned on Commercial Flights — Airlines are Crying “Woof”

News accounts abound of passengers bringing a variety of so-called “emotional support” animals aboard commercial air flights. Who hasn’t seen a cute, expensive dog, cat or other animals on flights?  And we have also heard about passengers bringing along cats, turkeys, lizards and emotional support snakes aboard commercial flights. Well, the days of flying pets for free are over, according to new federal rules.

Last week, the Department of Transportation (DOT) adopted new rules that only specially trained dogs can assist passengers with physical or psychiatric disabilities on commercial flights.  This rule comes after years of abuse by passengers who want to have their pets fly free.


Image by Erin Kelly via KPIX CBS SF Bay Area

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, imagine your astonishment when boarding the train for your morning commute to find you’re sharing the ride with a miniature horse. That’s exactly what happened to some passengers taking BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in the San Francisco Bay Area on a November morning in 2019.

Yes, the miniature horse is a service animal, as so defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and is allowed in “public accommodations” including banks, restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and on public transportation (and see our blog on ride-sharing and service animals).

The City of Brotherly Love is Showing Love to Persons with
Disabilities Under the ADA, but not to Lyft or Uber

From coast to coast, Uber and Lyft have come under increasing fire from disability rights organizations and have faced litigation because their ride share practices allegedly discriminate against persons with disabilities.  Federal lawsuits were also filed in San Francisco against Uber and Lyft .

In what appears to be the most draconian decision to date, a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge ruled on October 6, 2016 that Uber and Lyft repeatedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and issued an order suspending their rideshare services in the City of Brotherly Love.  The ramifications of this Order could be felt throughout the United States and Canada, which has similar civil rights laws to protect persons with disabilities.

Common Pleas Judge Linda Carpenter’s Order in Blount v. Philadelphia Parking Authority granted plaintiff’s request for an injunction prohibiting the parking authority from authorizing Uber and Lyft to operate in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Complaint alleged that Uber and Lyft systematically failed to provide vehicles which accommodate persons in wheelchairs, routinely refuse to accommodate persons who travel with service animals and charge excessive pricing for such accommodations.

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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 Continue ›

The Department of Justice published revised final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) on September 15, 2010. Certain of these amendments became effective as of March 15, 2011, including revisions to the provisions of the ADA governing service animals.

Rules Relating to Service Animals

First and foremost…according to federal law, service animals are not pets. For example, health codes that prohibit animals in restaurants do not apply to service animals. Your hotel may be “pet free” for some purposes, but that policy cannot apply to service animals. The law says that service animals are working animals that have been trained to perform tasks for disabled persons such as guiding the blind, alerting the deaf, pulling wheelchairs, providing seizure alerts, and calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack (which must be distinguished from a “comfort” animal, as discussed below).

Dogs and Miniature Horses as Service Animals

In the new provisions, the federal law was changed to more narrowly define “service animals” to include individually trained dogs which assist their owners with physical impairments. Under the ADA, as revised, “comfort animals” (whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support) are no longer considered service animals.

In addition to the provisions about dogs as service animals, the revised ADA regulations now have a provision about miniature horses (which generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds) that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Entities covered by the ADA must now also modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. The revised regulations provide for the weighing of certain factors to determine if miniature horses can be accommodated in a facility: “(1) whether the miniature horse is housebroken; (2) whether the miniature horse is under the owner’s control; (3) whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight; and (4) whether the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility.” Continue ›

Service animals are not pets

According to the law, service animals are not pets. Whether your hotel is “pet friendly” or a “no pets” establishment does not affect your obligation to treat disabled guests with service animals like all other guests: they are to be provided the same services and access to all areas of the hotel’s property that other guests are allowed such as pool areas, laundries, business centers, lobbies, restaurants and so on. Health codes that prohibit animals in restaurants do not apply to service animals.

Many states, such as California, recognize “service canines,” such as sight or guide dogs, signal dogs and seizure alert dogs. But under the ADA, which is enforced throughout the 50 U.S. states, the definition of “service animals” includes any kind of animal individually trained to provide assistance. Service monkeys have been encountered and can provide legitimate services to the disabled. But the potential for abusing the “service animals” designation is obvious, so what can hotel staff do?