What the ADA Says About Service Animals in Hotels

From the blind to the hearing impaired, a number of people require the assistance of a service animal. These animals can aid with mobility issues, alert the hearing impaired, guide the visually impaired, and perform tasks that a disabled person cannot. However, some establishments, like hotels, fall behind on the rights of these individuals. Brushing up on the legal do’s and don’ts of service animals can help the hospitality sector manage these companions with ease. Below is an overview of basic service animal protocol.

What is a Service Animal?

A service animal is a specialized and highly trained canine. They are taught to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Under the ADA, species other than dogs are not considered service animals — with the exception of miniature horses. Miniature horses help to pull people in wheelchairs. Service animals are not pets, meaning that hotel pet policies do not apply to them.

Questioning Four-Legged Creatures

Hotel staff has the right to ask only two questions: is this animal needed because of a disability? and what task(s) does the animal provide? If the task is apparent, then the staff has no right to inquire about either the service animal or the disability. Staff also cannot ask for documentation or proof of an individual’s disability and the animal’s training — that includes asking the service animal to perform their tasks.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are different than service animals and provide aid to those in emotional or psychological distress. ESAs are not covered under the ADA, however, recent litigation has arisen when people with ESAs have been denied equal access. Tread carefully and accommodate ESAs when possible.

Can a Hotel Charge for a Service Dog?

Hotels legally cannot charge an extra fee for service animals because service animals are not pets. If an animal causes damage, then hoteliers may impose a fee on the owner. Examples of this include causing damage to furniture or the animal relieving themselves in the guestroom.

Where Can Service Animals Go?

Service animals are allowed in the public areas of the hotel that are otherwise off limits to pets. Guests with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated or barred from areas where other guests are allowed to go. It should be noted that with miniature horses, there are legitimate safety concerns. Some hotels have designated rooms or floors for guests with pets to stay but confining disabled guests to these spaces is not allowed under the ADA. In short, hotels cannot segregate the person and animal from other patrons.

However, service animals must behave well. If a dog is barking, growing, or acting unruly, it can be removed. The dog must be under control at all times and should remain within three feet of its owner.

Welcoming a hotel guest with a service dog can be simple and easy if you follow the aforementioned rules. The next time a four-legged furry friend walks into a hotel, remember that they are there to do a job.