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Public Rights Division

Service Animals

What is a service animal?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or any other animal trained to help a person with a disability to perform tasks they can’t do themselves – regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by the government.  For example:

            • alerting people with hearing impairment to sounds
            • pulling wheelchairs
            • carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments

How can a business tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?
Some service animals wear special collars and harnesses. But not all do. Keep in mind that disabled people generally don’t carry service animal paperwork with them everywhere they go – and they’re not required to. You can’t insist on seeing written proof before allowing the service animal to enter your business. If you’re not certain, you may ask if the animal is required because of a disability.

What must a business do when a person with a service animal comes to my business?
The service animal must be allowed to accompany the disabled person to all areas where customers are normally allowed to go. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers.

What happens if a business refuses to allow a person with a service animal?
Anyone who prevents a disabled person and his or her service animal from being at a place of public accommodation may be guilty of a criminal offense. Such conduct can also make violator liable for money damages.

If a business has always had a clearly posted “no pets” policy, does it still have to let service animals in?
Yes.  A service animal is not a pet.  The ADA requires you to modify your “no pets” policy to allow the use of service animals.

If the county health department says that only a guide dog has to be admitted, is that the law?
No. The ADA provides greater protection to disabled people and so it takes priority over the county laws.

Can a business charge a maintenance or cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals into my business?
No. Neither a deposit nor a surcharge may be imposed on a disabled person – even if deposits are routinely required for pets. However, you may charge a disabled customer if the service animal causes damage, if that’s the regular policy for all customers.

I operate a private taxicab and I do not want animals in my taxi; they smell, shed hair, and sometimes have “accidents.” Am I violating the ADA if I refuse to pick up someone with a service animal?
Yes.  Taxicabs may not refuse to provide services to disabled people. Private taxicab companies are also prohibited from charging higher fares or fees for transporting people with service animals than they charge other persons for the same service.

Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?
No. The supervision of the service animal is solely the responsibility of its owner. You are not required to provide care, food or a special location for the animal.

What if the service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?
You may exclude any animal, including service animals, from your facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. You may not make assumptions, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave based on your experience with other animals.  Each situation must be considered individually.

Although a public accommodation may exclude a service animal that is out of control, it should give the owner the option of continuing to patronize the business without the animal on the premises.

Can I exclude an animal that does not really seem dangerous but is disruptive to my business?
There may be a few circumstances when a business 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. Yet when it does, for example, when a dog barks during a movie, the animal can be excluded.

This information was derived from the U.S. Department of Justice.  If you have additional questions about service animals or other requirements of the ADA, you may call the Department’s toll-free hotline at 800-541-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TDD).

People with complaints or questions about a Santa Monica business should call the Consumer Protection Unit at 310-458-8336 (voice) or 310-458-8696 (TTY).

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