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Summary of Laws on Assistance Animals

Cynthia Hodges, J.D., LL.M., M.A.



Publish Date:
2010
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
Printable Version

Summary of Laws on Assistance Animals

State and federal laws prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, including those who rely on service animals. The intent of many of the laws appears to be to put disabled people on the same footing as non-disabled people as much as possible. To this end, many states provide for equal access to public places for disabled people with service animals. States also try to protect service animals from intentional harm. States may also mandate that drivers yield to people with physical disabilities and reduce or eliminate dog licensing fees for service animals.

Accommodation laws have been enacted in most states that give disabled people the right to be accompanied by a service animal in places of public accommodation or transportation. Businesses may not discourage a person with a service animal from patronizing the business. For example, businesses may not refuse to allow a person with a service animal to enter or collect an additional fee for the animal. Many such laws provide for fines, restitution, and sometimes incarceration for violations. Many states protect against abuse of these laws by making it a crime to wrongfully impersonate someone who needs a service animal.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals who rely on service animals from extensive inquiries into their disability. Under the ADA, businesses may ask which tasks a service animal has been trained to perform and require some evidence of that training. However, they may not ask about the person’s disability or demand special ID cards. A person who violates the ADA may have to pay monetary damages to the person wronged.

In addition to ensuring equal access to disabled people with service animals, state laws may also make it a crime to intentionally, knowingly, or even negligently harm a service animal. Such statutes may make it a crime to interfere with or harm a service animal. This is almost always a misdemeanor if the animal is not injured. If the animal is killed or stolen, then it may be a felony. It may also be a crime (misdemeanor) for another dog to harm a service animal. If one of the above situations occurs, the disabled person may be compensated for the monetary loss of the service dog or the cost of training a replacement.

Whether by fines, restitution, or imprisonment, state and federal laws try to protect the rights of disabled people and safeguard their service animals from harm.

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