Accommodating Service Dogs

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Best Practices

A jury awarded a pharmacist $134,000 in damages on Sept. 15, 2022, after finding her employer, a Missouri-based regional health center, discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it did not allow her to use her service dog as an accommodation.1

A federal jury in Denver (Colorado, USA) awarded a $20,000 settlement to a patient denied services for managing her diabetes at a physician’s office after finding an endocrine physician discriminated against her because of her disability. The physician’s office is also prohibited from banning service animals and must modify its policies regarding service animals to comply with the ADA within 45 days of the order.2

The Department of Justice, Western District of Texas (USA), ordered a hotel to develop a service dog policy and pay compensation for the discriminatory harm caused by hotel staff refusing to honor a veteran’s reservation because of his service dog. Hotel staff told him they had a policy against allowing pets in the rooms and insisted the veteran leave, called local police to escort the veteran off hotel property, and refused to refund his room rental fee.3

Service animals

A service dog with specialized training is viewed as assistive technology/medical equipment, not as a pet, said Charlotte Stasio, Griffin LLC Director of Operations, during the Jan. 18, 2023, “Working with Dogs in Public Safety” webinar. Griffin LLC develops customized, inclusive training for emergency management and response needs.

In accordance with the ADA, Stasio said service dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers anywhere the individual with disabilities is allowed to enter.

“No proof from the handler is required,” Stasio said. “A service dog is a type of medical device. Wheelchairs don’t need certification and neither do service dogs.”

And yet, despite ADA regulations, service dog owners across the world have reported access denied to a restaurant, shop, taxi, or health care facility at some point because of their dog. A survey conducted by the charity Guide Dogs revealed 81% of guide dog owners experienced an “access refusal” because of their guide dogs.4

"Guide dog owners want you to know the increased safety and confidence their dog provides,” Stasio said. “They empower people with disabilities to lead full lives.”

Simply stated, a service dog is a dog with a specific job for a specific individual.

According to highlights of the 60-minute presentation hosted by Stasio and Cara Gregg, Director of Operations, Fidos for Freedom:

The ADA defines "Service Animals" as dogs individually trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability (e.g., a dog trained to guide a blind person, alert a deaf person, pull a wheelchair, alert a person who has epilepsy to the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure). In some instances, a person with a disability may use a miniature horse that has been trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities as a service animal.

The service animal is trained for one person, Gregg said, and training can take at least two years. “It’s an extensive process matching people with the right dog. They become a partner in resiliency and recovery. They go everywhere with the person.” Gregg noted that individuals can bring their own pets in for training or provide their own training for the task desired.

ADA requirements

The ADA allows only two questions of the service animal’s owner regarding the service animal:

  • Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Staff cannot:

  • Require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog or otherwise require proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal as a condition for entry
  • Ask the dog to demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task, ask about the person’s disability, or require medical documentation of the disability
  • Service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.


Never approach the service animal, Gregg said. “Follow the lead of the handler. Pay attention. When they are on the job, it’s not a good idea to interrupt or distract them no matter your good intentions.”

Public safety situations

A service animal is allowed to ride in an ambulance with its handler unless ambulance space is crowded and the dog’s presence would interfere with the emergency medical staff’s ability to treat the patient. Staff should make other arrangements to have the dog transported to the hospital.5

Stasio recommended incorporating service dog status into emergency dispatch protocol. “It would alert responders coming on scene and add insight to the response,” she said. The handler could also provide information pre-response involving verbal and non-verbal communication.

Emotional support animals (ESA) do not qualify for the same arrangement. The person's mental health professional has determined that the presence of the ESA is necessary for the person's mental health and has written a prescription stating the pet is necessary in the person's home. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. The federal Fair Housing Act, however, prohibits a property management company from denying housing to someone with an emotional support animal.6

Therapy dogs in emergency services are a whole different topic. For first responders, therapy dogs go into the field or the communication center. They might attend debriefing and defusing sessions following difficult calls and, in general, help emergency dispatchers and field responders cope with their job stress. The article “Therapy Animals in the Comm. Center” by Becca Barrus is available on the Journal of Emergency Dispatch website.


1 Shumway E. “Pharmacist wins $134,000 jury award in ADA service dog case.” HR Dive. 2022; Sept. 19. https://www.hrdive.com/news/pharmacist-wins-134000-jury-award-ada-service-dog-case/632198/ (accessed Jan. 18, 2023).

2 Harmon T. “Pueblo woman awarded $20,000 in discrimination lawsuit against medical practice.” The Pueblo Chieftain. 2022; April 11. https://www.chieftain.com/story/business/2022/04/11/jury-finds-pueblo-doctor-discriminated-against-woman-service-dog/7277682001/ (accessed Jan. 19, 2023).

3 “Killeen Hotel to Pay Damages to Disabled Veteran with Service Dog for Denying Access.” United States Department of Justice. 2022; Feb. 15. https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdtx/pr/killeen-hotel-pay-damages-disabled-veteran-service-dog-denying-access (accessed Jan. 18, 2023).

4 “81% of guide dog owners illegally refused entry to a business or service, study reveals.” itv News. 2022; Nov. 16. https://www.itv.com/news/border/2022-11-16/81-of-guide-dog-owners-illegally-refused-entry-to-businesses (accessed Jan. 20, 2023).

5“FAQ Around Service Animals.” Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. https://addpc.az.gov/faq-around-service-animals (accessed Jan. 19, 2023).

6 “Service Dog Definitions.” Americans with Disabilities Act. https://www.nh.gov/disability/documents/servicedogdefinitions.pdf (accessed Jan. 19, 2023).