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Legal to Ban a Customer's Service Animal?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

Service animals are becoming more common in many states which leaves small business owners wondering about how that affects their pet policies.

Service animals aren't considered pets under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) so they technically aren't supposed to be excluded as part of a no-pets policy. But they are still animals that can potentially make a mess, bother other customers, and generally cause a problem.

So what's a small business owner to do? The first step is to understand the law.

The ADA is a federal regulation so it covers the conduct of all businesses in the country. Under those regulations, there is not a lot businesses can do about service animals.

The rules are vague but they generally cover any dog with special training that is needed for a physical, mental or emotional disability. Other regulations allow for 'assistance animals' which are not limited to dogs. Those animals must be allowed to remain with their owners in any business that is open to the public.

Because service animals are meant for a disability, the questions owners can ask about them are limited. When confronted with a service dog there are only two inquires you can make:

'Is this animal necessary for a disability? What special skill do they provide?'

That's it. Questions on the specifics of the disability or the animal's training are not permitted under the ADA. Service animal owners also don't have to show registration or ID that the dog is a service animal.

Part of the reason ID's are not required is that not all states have a licensing program. It is also considered a burden on service animal owners to carry the necessary paperwork everywhere they go.

In general, lack of documentation is not a reason to refuse a service animal.

There is however, some recourse for small business owners if the animal causes a problem.

If a service animal poses a danger to other customers you can ask the owner to remove the animal. This has to be based on specific facts that indicate the animal will be a danger, such as growling, and not on a general suspicion that it will.

You can also ask a service animal to be removed if it is not housebroken or has an accident.

Service animals are a necessity for many people and while current laws are vague they do require businesses to cooperate. Not allowing service dogs could be a bigger headache than letting them in.

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