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Can You Bring a Service Animal to Court?

Sparkles, an english creme lab and therapy dog poses for a camera at home on hard wooded floors.
By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

More and more places are accommodating people with service animals, recognizing the essential function many of these animals play in the owners' lives. At the same time, stories of emotional support pigs, squirrels, and, yes, kangaroos, have many business owners and public service providers becoming skeptical of people's service animal claims.

But let's say the service animal is legit, and your issues are legal. Can you bring your service animal to a courthouse or into a courtroom?

Canines in Court

Despite their stuffy and formal reputation, courtrooms are one of the more open places when it comes to both service and emotional support animals. Between child abuse cases, domestic violence claims, and wrongful death lawsuits, people are often testifying about severely traumatic experiences. And courts -- with stern judges and sometimes life-and-death stakes -- can be intimidating places. So many courthouses or courtrooms have their own support dogs to aid witnesses.

"Sometimes they need the leash in their hand," according to Superior Court Judge Jeanette Dalton of Kitsap County, Washington, where a yellow Lab named Kerris sometimes steps in to help witnesses remain calm and focused. "Sometimes they need the dog touching their feet. Sometimes they just need to see the dog." Pew research shows at least 144 courthouse facility dogs currently at work in about three dozen states:

State laws vary as to who can be helped by a canine in a courtroom and under what circumstances. Some laws apply only to children; others include crime victims or vulnerable adults such as those who are intellectually or developmentally disabled. Most specify that the dogs must be graduates of certified assistance dog organizations.

Animal Courtroom Etiquette

So there's a chance the court will provide access to their own therapy animals, but what about bringing your own service animal to court?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a person with a disability may be accompanied by a service dog in most public places, including courthouses. The ADA defines service animals as "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability," and, unfortunately, does not apply to emotional support animals. It is important to note that local and state laws may be more permissive than the federal ADA when it comes to service and support animals.

Be aware, however, that some states may have pretty high training standards for service animals before they're allowed into court. And lying about your service animal could land you in jail.

It's a good idea to talk to an attorney if you're going to court for any reason, but especially if you're concerned about bringing your service animal to court with you.

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