Skip to content
Assistance Animals Pamphlet - Invisible Disabilities Association
Assistance Animals are more than just pets.

Assistance animals assist people with various disabilities.

What are Assistance Animals? Most people are familiar with service animals such as guide dogs often seen with people who are sight impaired and hearing dogs for those who are hearing impaired. We may even know about service animals that help pull wheelchairs or retrieve various items. Yet, we often do not realize that there are many different types of service animals for many types of disabilities.

So, what is a service animal? A service animal is not just a pet or companion. “Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself” (USDOJ). As a result, the person must have a disability according to a medical professional and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which can be either a “physical or mental impairment” (USEEOC).

In addition, the animal must be trained to mitigate a person’s disability by performing such tasks as retrieving, leading, pulling, providing balance and/or alerting. They should also be able to follow basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, here, down and/or follow, as well as exhibit good behavior in public places.

What are the rights and rules governing service animals?

What rights do service animals have? “Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go” (ADA 2010).

Service Dog with boy.

What kind of animals are they? For many years, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (section 36.104 of the title III regulation) did not limit service animals to dogs. Therefore, although a service animal has most often been a dog, it could also have been another species of animal such as a monkey, miniature horse or pig.

However, in September 2010, a final rule was published in the Federal Register to amend the service animal definition to be limited to dogs (with some exceptions for miniature horses). This new regulation went into effect in March 2011 (ADA Fact Sheet). Of course, a person may still keep a service animal such as a cat, pig or monkey for their personal use, but they are not covered under the same regulations nor granted public access.

There can be some confusion regarding service animals that assist those living with invisible disabilities caused by chronic illness, injury, pain, mental disorders or learning differences such as Autism. Nonetheless, for those debilitated by such symptoms as extreme pain, fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, balance issues and cognitive impairments, a service animal can make a vast difference in their quality of life. These service animals can perform helpful physical tasks such as picking things up off the floor, reminding a person to take their medicine, helping with balance and more.

The impact of assistance animals on the lives of those with physiological and psychological disorders.

Service animals are also changing lives by alerting their owner of a physiological response such as a seizure or potentially dangerous changes in blood sugar levels. You may have even read about Belle the beagle. She dialed 9-1-1 after her diabetic owner Kevin Weaver, had a seizure and collapsed. Kevin  believes he would not be alive today if it were not for Belle (AP).

Until Tuesday Comes
Former Captain Luis Carlos Montelvan and Tuesday. PTSD advocates.

For those living with various types of mental disorders, ”The final rule also clarifies that individuals with mental disabilities who use service animals that are trained to perform a specific task are protected by the ADA” (ADA Fact Sheet).

In these cases, a service animal can alert the handler to an incipient manic episode, anxiety or panic attack, as well as alert the owner to aggressive driving. He can also assist the owner with confidence in leaving the home or exiting a situation that is causing a rise in anxiety, panic, distress and/or fear. What’s more, he may help the handler with physical tasks such as reminding the person to take their medication, assisting them with finding their keys or the telephone, turning on lights to safety check a room and nudging them to wake them up (PSDS, tasks).

For those battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, service animals can also interrupt flashbacks and nightmares, reduce anxiety and stress and help regain self-assurance (such as Canines4Hope, Service Dogs for America, ).

The Psychiatric Service Dog Society advises anyone obtaining a service dog for their psychiatric disorder should get a letter from their doctor (PSDS FAQ). Their advice probably holds true for all service animal owners, especially those living with other types invisible disabilities.

Where are service animals allowed to go?

In all, a trained and qualified service dog (or miniature horse) used for reasons under the ADA guidelines is allowed access to public places. “Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.” In addition, “An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers” (USDOJ).

How are service animals identified?

How does a proprietor know the handler’s animal is a service animal? Although some service animals wear special harnesses or vests and some owners carry certifications, these things are not required. Therefore, “When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task” (ADA 2010).

Service Animals are not pets. 

Many business owners have a “no pets” policy on their premises. Nonetheless, “A service animal is not a pet. The ADA requires you to modify your ‘no pets’ policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. This does not mean you must abandon your ‘no pets’ policy altogether but simply that you must make an exception to your  general rule for service animals” (USDOJ).

The ADA protects service animals and Often a business will state that their local county health department has told them that only a seeing eye or guide dog has to be admitted. However, “… [you are in violation of the ADA] if you refuse to admit any other type of service animal on the basis of local health department regulations or other state or local laws. The ADA provides greater protection for individuals with disabilities and so it takes priority over the local or state laws or regulations” (USDOJ).

What are the rules about service animals on public and private transportation?

Many transportation companies often fear that admitting an animal into their taxis, buses and trains would be detrimental to their other customers. In spite of this,  “…under the ADA regulation issued by the Department of Transportation (49 C.F.R. Part 37) for the provision of transportation services to individuals with  disabilities by public and private entities, section 37.167(d) requires those entities to permit service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities in vehicles and facilities. The regulation defines the term ‘service animal’ in the same manner as the Department’s ADA regulation”

Therapy and Emotional Support Animals have their roles too. (Dunne).

Of course, not all animals helping people are deemed service animals. For example: Therapy, social and facility animals are often utilized for visitations or are placed in homes or facilities “… to provide therapeutic benefits” (ADI). Yet, “Federal laws have no provisions for people to be accompanied by therapy animals in places of public accommodation that have ‘no pets’ policies. Therapy animals usually are not service animals” (PetPartner).

This includes emotional support animals that are not trained as service animals: “Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals” (ADA Fact Sheet).

How does the Fair Housing Act impact assistance animals and their owners?

Regarding matters of housing, “The Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(3)(B)) prohibits discrimination against a renter or buyer on the basis of disability. Discrimination includes a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies,

Emotional Support Animals have rights under the Fair Housing Act.

practices, or services, when those accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy a place of residence.” (Dunne).

Thus, in the light of housing issues with people with verifiable disabilities, “… [The Fair Housing Amendment Act and the ADA] protect the right of people with disabilities to keep emotional support animals, even when a landlord’s policy explicitly prohibits pets…. In most housing complexes, so long as the tenant has a letter or prescription from an  appropriate professional, such as a therapist or physician, and meets the definition of a person with a disability, he or she is entitled to a reasonable accommodation that would allow an emotional support animal in the apartment” (BCMHL).

All in all, when it comes to Assistance Animals, the bottom line is that “The rule defines ‘service animal’ as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability” (ADA Fact Sheet) and the service animal owner must have a legitimate disability. All the same, we are not attempting to interpret the law nor make assessments regarding who specifically qualifies and who does not. That must be done based on each individual case, circumstances and determined by medical professionals and/or legal authorities.




Assessing a Request to Have an Animal Under Fair Housing Act 2020

Assistance Animals from

Fact Sheet on Hud’s Assistance Animals Notice 2020

Overview of Assistance Animals in Housing 2019

SERVICE ANIMAL REVISION: “Service animal” definition changed to dogs only (with exception of mini-horses under specific conditions). Final rule published in the Federal Register 9/15/2010, which went into effect 3/15/2011. More information: •NEW ADA Revisions Limit “Service Animals” to Dogs •How was the definition of “service animal” changed July 23, 2010? •Title II Fact Sheet •Text of Revised Title II Regulation •Final Rule for Title III •Title III Fact Sheet •Text of Revised Title III Regulation 2011 Revised Service Animal Definitions and Rules

ADA Business Brief: Service Animals

ADA Definition of the Term Disability

ADA Act of 1990, Titles I and V

2011 ADA Service Animal Definitions and Rules

Disclaimer: This pamphlet is not a legal document. Rules are subject to change. Seek advice from a medical and/or legal professional.

Copyright 1997-2021 Invisible Disabilities Association All rights reserved. This article is one of our many informative pamphlets available for ordering. Visitors may read this pamphlet online for free and they may print up to 3 copies from the website for their personal use. However, permission is required to distribute this article in any way and our pamphlets cannot be re-published electronically in any form on the internet, emails, etc. If you would like to quote up to 100 words from this article, with full credits and a link to this article, please send the request to IDA through our Contact Page. Order This Pamphlet Here Thank you!



UPDATE: 9/15/2010 – “Service animal” definition changed to dogs only (with exception of mini-horses under specific condition) on 7/23/2010. Final rule published in the Federal Register 9/15/2010, which goes into effect 3/15/2011.Due to changes in the laws, some information found in this article and links may no longer apply.  Title II Fact Sheet

NEW ADA Revisions Limit “Service Animals” to Dogs

IDA’s Service Animal Links Page

How was the definition of “service animal” changed July 23, 2010?

Final Rule for Title II

Text of Revised Title II Regulation

Final Rule for Title IIITitle III Fact Sheet

Text of Revised Title III Regulation