ADA Focus: Service Animals

Lodging operators continue to have questions about when a guest is allowed to bring a service animal into the hotel under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Recently, THLA’s legal team fielded many inquiries about whether a guest may leave a “service animal” unattended in a guestroom.

What is a service animal?

The ADA defines a service animal as any dog or miniature horse whose work or tasks directly relate to the individual’s disability.  If the animal meets this definition, the animal is considered a service animal under the ADA, regardless of whether the animal has been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

A service animal is not a pet.

Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself.

Guide dogs are most familiar, but there are service animals assisting persons with other kinds of disabilities in day-to-day activities. Some examples include:

  • Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds
  • Pulling wheelchairs,  carrying and picking up items  for persons with mobility impairments
  • Assisting persons with mobility impairments and balance

How can I tell if an animal is legally a service animal and not a pet?

Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses.  If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the guest if a service animal is required because of a disability, and you may ask the guest what work or tasks the animal has been trained to perform.

However, documentation may not be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal, and there is not a federal or state identification card that shows an animal is certified as a service animal.

Accordingly, you may not insist on proof of certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

Can a guest leave a service dog unattended in a guestroom?

We generally advise lodging properties to adopt a policy that does not allow a guest to leave a service animal unattended by the animal’s owner.

Hotel staff may not be trained to handle unattended animals.  Many hotels are not equipped to board or crate an animal causing a disturbance until the guest returns.

If an animal is left unattended in a hotel guestroom, attempt  to contact the guest.  When the guest returns, inform him or her that unattended service animals are not permitted at the property.

THLA’s full guide on ADA service animals is available here.

If you have any questions or concerns about the ADA, please feel free to contact one of our THLA attorneys at (512) 474-2996.

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