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Service Animals

1. Service Animals

1.1. Locating Assistance Dogs

Assistance Dogs International is a worldwide coalition of not-for-profit programs that train and place Assistance Dogs. ADI has accredited member programs across the world. Find out where the programs are located. You can use the Members Search to find an assistance dog program that serves your area.

1.2. Service Animals And The Law

The ADA defines service animals as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include: Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds. Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments. Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance. A service animal is not a pet.

Service animals must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of a facility where customers are normally allowed to go. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers.

A service animal is not a pet. While many businesses have policies and posted signs disallowing pets or dogs, these rules do not refer service animals. The ADA requires that "no pets" policies allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. Service animals are always the exception to these rules.

A service animal can be excluded from a facility or place of business when the animal's behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be excluded. However, this exclusion cannot be based on businesses prior experience with a service animal. The decision to exclude a service animal must be aimed at a specific animal for a specific incident. 

There may be a few circumstances when a public accommodation is not required to accommodate a service animal--that is, when doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business. Generally, this is not likely to occur in restaurants, hotels, retail stores, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities. But when it does, for example, when a dog barks during a movie, the animal can be excluded. 


Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA- Published by the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section.

International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) is a non-profit, cross-disability organization representing people partnered with guide, hearing and service dogs. 

ADI- Public Laws: ADI strives to keep current on legislation and laws around the world regarding public access for assistance dog partner teams. Please note their disclaimer. 



1.3. Traveling with a service animal

By Andrea Jehn Kennedy

For four years, my husband Craig and I were blessed to travel with our service dog Mohawkie. While there were challenges, it was always nice to have her at our feet. Since she passed away in 2007, the numbers of travelers with service animals has increased considerably, and thus there have been many changes in laws, regulations, and services provided for those traveling with a service animal. As a result, it is an increasingly better world for handlers and their animals, but there are still plenty of tips to share for those who do.

Under the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are defined as "individually trained animals that perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks." These animals are not referred to as "pets" and can legally accompany the handler into any public facility. Business owners do have the right to ask what the animal does for the handler, but not what the handler's disability is, and are allowed to remove these animals only if they are unruly and misbehaving.

Do not confuse these working, certified animals with those who have been "prescribed" by a doctor as emotional or psychiatric support animals. Those animals are not protected by the ADA as of yet, and do not apply to any of the laws below. Owners of emotional support animals are required to give at least 48 hours notice to the airline carrier, and must have a letter of documentation from the prescribing physician. More and more airlines are confirming these letters by calling the physician's office upon receipt of the letter; Southwest Airlines has set the precedent by calling on every one, and I suspect all other airlines will soon follow suit.

In 2009, the Department of Transportation rewrote a major portion of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), known as Part 382 (P382), altering and improving the rules and regulations of all aspects of air travel for people with disabilities. For travelers with service animals, P382's section 117 applies to you and your animal. Notes from this section include:

  • Service animal is allowed to accompany handler at all times.
  • Animal must fit in assigned location (below seat in front) and must not create an obstruction to other passengers on the airplane.
  • Animal may not be charged extra for travel services.
  • Animal must behave professionally and be able to hold its bladder and bowel for the duration of the flight. Airline can request documentation of the latter for flights of more than 8 hours.
  • Airline carrier can ask what services the animal provides, but cannot ask what the handler's disability is.
  • Carrier is allowed to accept ID cards, written documentation, presence of harnesses or other working equipment, and verbal assurances as evidence that an animal is a service animal.
  • Carrier is responsible for creating Service Animal Relief Areas (more below).
  • Carrier cannot require advance notice of traveling with a service animal (as they can with emotional support animals).
  • Foreign carriers must comply with these rules unless their existing laws contradict. (Currently only a few countries' laws do not permit entrance of animals to their countries; Jamaica and Bermuda are two of them.)
  • Unusual animals (horses, pigs, monkeys, etc.) can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as to whether they pose a threat to the health or safety of others, and may be denied by the airline for any of those reasons.

For more on P382.117, visit Responsible handling is expected while traveling with a service animal.(For those who have traveled with service animals for years, these points are redundant, but for those who haven't, they are worth mention.) Tips for traveling with a service animal:

  • Find hub airports that have excellent Service Animal Relief Areas to transfer through; a list of those is below.
  • Schedule a lengthier layover (2-3 hours vs. one hour, standard) if you are traveling through an airport that does not have an in-terminal relief area (or if you do not know either way).
  • Ask your service animal trainer about the best methods for dehydrating your service animal before a flight if needed.
  • Pack enough food and water for your animal during and immediately after flight.
  • Handler is responsible for having your animal under leash control at all times, and flight attendants are not required to assist you in any way with your animal during flight.

As a result of P382, airlines and airports are adding their required Service Animal Relief Area (SARA) to every U.S. airport. While the responsibility to create these areas does fall on the carrier, some airports are taking the initiative on themselves because P382 also has sections on airport accessibility, which SARAs also fall under. Requirements for SARAs include:

  • Carriers must consult with local service animal training organizations to establish SARA
  • SARA must be within a reasonable distance for passengers to get to
  • SARA must be accessible to all persons with disabilities and good for all sizes of dogs
  • SARA may not double as a smoking area
  • SARA must provide trash receptacle for waste disposal and be maintained regularly so that the area is clean of debris and dog waste (e.g., so blind users do not track waste away with them)
  • SARA must be labeled on online and in-flight maps

Currently no requirements state that SARAs must be safe-side, i.e., past the TSA security checkpoints, and therefore most do not yet meet the requirement of "reasonable distance" for transferring passengers. This is an area that many airports and carriers are currently looking at, and will be one of the highest priorities in the creation of new SARAs in the near future. Finally, the US Access Board and the Open Doors Organization are collaborating on a guidebook for airports and carriers to utilize to create the best SARAs possible. New technology, methods, and ideas are being used to create this guide as well as create the best possible SARA possible for the dog and its handler, so the future is bright for traveling working dogs as well as the millions of pets who travel with their owners each year. Links for finding SARAs at your preferred airports: Southwest Airlines: Alaska Air: Mr. Paws: Service Dog: Pet Friendly Travel: Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport: Philadelphia Airport: Miami International Airport: Andrea Jehn Kennedy and her husband Craig are co-owners of Access Anything (, travel consultants and writers specializing in marketing and education for all aspects of disability travel.