Information About Service Animals
A: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Massachusetts General Law c. 272, В§ 98A, businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Among other things, these laws require businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed. Discrimination by a business against persons with disabilities is also a violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, G.L. c. 93A.
- Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sound
- Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments
- Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance
- Alerting a person with a epilepsy, diabetes or a psychiatric disability to health changes that need immediate attention
Other laws, including fair housing and employment discrimination laws, allow animals other than dogs and miniature horses and animals that do not have training, such as вЂњemotional support animalsвЂќ if it is a reasonable accommodation for a disability. If your business has a grant or contract funded by the federal government, you should check with your funding source for applicable rules.
It is important to remember that an individual may have a disability even if that disability is not open and obvious. For example, some servicemembers and veterans are prescribed service animals to treat Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Q: How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?
A: Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you are allowed to ask (1) if it is a service animal required because of a disability, or (2) what tasks the animal performs. You cannot ask for documentation or certification that it is a service animal. Currently, there is no state or national certification available for service animals so businesses are not permitted to inquire if the animal is licensed or certified or whether the animal has identification papers
To differentiate between pets and service animals, businesses can ask the person with a disability if the animal is a service animal required because of a disability. They can also ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform. Once an individual answers these questions the business may not question them further or separate the animal from the individual except as noted above. Businesses may not inquire about the individualвЂ™s disability
Q: I always have had a clearly posted “no pets” policy at my establishment. Do I still have to allow service animals in?
Q: My county health department has told me that only a seeing eye or guide dog has to be admitted but not dogs that help people with other disabilities. If I follow those regulations, am I violating the ADA?
Q: Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?
Q: Can I exclude an animal that doesn’t really seem dangerous, but is disruptive to my business?
A: Service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Massachusetts General Law c. 272, В§ 98A, among other laws. These laws require businesses to allow individuals accompanied by service animals into places of public accommodation like restaurants, hotels, and stores, regardless of sanitary or health codes.
The individual and the service animal must be permitted in all areas of the facility normally open to members of the public. Businesses should not seek to separate individuals with disabilities from their service animal. However, businesses can exclude service animals if the animal misbehaves and the owner is unable to bring the animal under control. In those rare cases, the person with disability must then be admitted without the service animal.
Q: I heard that business no longer has to accept animals other than dogs and miniature horses. Am I required to allow tenants in my apartment building to have animals other than dogs and miniature horses?
For more information about service animals or accommodating individuals with disabilities, call the Civil Rights Division at (617) 963-2939. You can also review the service animal advisory published by the United States Department of Justice.