When a dog is not a pet: Five things you should know about service animals.

When a dog is not a pet: Five things you should know about service animals.

It’s been 25 years since Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), guaranteeing basic rights for people with disabilities, including full and equal access to your property and services. While many ADA requirements are related to physical accessibility, in 2010 the Department of Justice issued revised ADA regulations that clearly define what can and cannot be asked about service animals. Here are five important things your front desk staff should know when welcoming guests with service animals.1. Does our “no pets” policy apply to service animals?
Legally, a service animal is not a pet. You are required to modify your “no pets” policy to allow the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability. A “no pets” policy may be continued, but you must make an exception to your general rule for service animals.

Under the 2010 revisions, service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. The only other animal that can qualify under the ADA as a service animal is a miniature horse. A hotel is allowed to consider certain factors in determining whether a miniature horse can be appropriately accommodated within the hotel facility. These include whether the facility can accommodate the size and weight of the miniature horse and whether the miniature horse is housebroken.

2. We charge a deposit and a pet fee. Can we also require this for a service animal?
No deposit, fee or surcharge can be assessed for the service animal, even if the hotel routinely charges a pet fee. If the hotel normally charges for damages caused by pets, then the hotel may charge for any damage caused by the service animal.

3. How do we determine if it is a legitimate service animal?
There is no ADA requirement that the owner carry any certification papers showing that the animal is a service animal. When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, staff may ask two questions:

1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?

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. No inquiries should be made if the answers are readily apparent (such as a guide dog leading a person who is blind).

4. Can we ask that service animals be kept out of the breakfast room?
Under the ADA, businesses 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.

5. Can we ever ask service animal owners to remove their animal from our premises?
A service dog’s professional behavior and good grooming are necessary for it to be protected under the ADA. An individual may be asked to remove his or her service animal if it:

• Makes a mess on the floor

• Bites or jumps on another patron

• Wanders away from its owner

A fact sheet on service animals published by the Northwest ADA Center notes that a service animal may be removed if it continuously disturbs patrons; for example, if it is repeatedly barking. However, it should first be made clear that the service animal is not just doing its job. Barking may be how the dog performs its job. Find out first!

For additional information on how the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to hotels in Washington State, WLA members are encouraged to consult their Washington State Hospitality Law Manual (pp. 206-216). To request a replacement copy, click here. To learn more about this WLA member benefit, click here.

Compiled from the Washington State Hospitality Law Manual; the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section fact sheet on service animals and the Northwest ADA Center.