Service animals and emotional support animals can contribute to an individual’s independence and fulfillment, assisting people with specific tasks such as navigating streets, retrieving items, and generally living dignified lives. Service animals are typically dogs and in a few rare cases, other animals. In recent years, the Emotional support animal or ESA, has become more common, and can span a wide variety of animal types. When allowing, or even restricting, service and emotional support animals, your organization needs to consider compliance with regulatory requirements and the wellbeing of the population you support.

Regulatory Compliance

The primary and very important regulations regarding service animals and emotional support animals are generally broken down as follows:

  • Public facilities and accommodations
  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Transportation

Having a clear, up to date, compliant company policy and trained employees who understand and can enforce your policies on service animals and emotional support animals is key to protecting individuals in your program.

It’s critical that state and local laws regarding animals be followed, in addition to compliance to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). In the same respect, allowing animals in your programs that violate these regulations (such as vaccination requirements, or animals that present a safety risk to staff and individuals) can present a risk for liability to your organization.

Wellbeing of the Population Supported

Regulations are different for “service animals”, compared to “emotional support animals”. ADA has strict requirements relating to service animals but does not regulate emotional support animals. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does regulate emotional support animals through the fair housing act (FHA) and requires landlords to provide reasonable accommodation for emotional support animals in a residence.

Local and state laws will dictate the need for vaccination of both service and emotional support animals. Assuring animals are adequately vaccinated can help to protect the individuals in your program from harm from illnesses. Both service and emotional support animals should be properly licensed with respect to regulations, but service animals are not required to be “registered” as a service animal. Animals also may not be restricted/excluded from your programs or from other businesses because they are not “registered”.

Reasonable accommodations should be made to any individuals in your programs that have a need for a service animal. However, if the animal is “out of control” and the handler (either the individual who owns the animal or staff that assist that individual) is not capable of controlling them, the service animal can be excluded from your facilities. “Control” in this circumstance may be through physical signals, verbal cues, or with a device such as a leash, depending on the services the animal provides and the needs of the individual. Animals who are not housebroken may also be excluded from your facilities. Service animals may also be excluded if they “fundamentally alter” the nature of the services you provide, such as those that could cause disruption in certain aspects or areas of your programming.

Considering the impacts to the wellbeing of other individuals in your programs is key to implementing an effective program as well. Service animals in a residential setting that impact the wellbeing of the other residents could disrupt the services you provide. When service animals are in your program settings, consider the needs of all the individuals in those programs, such as allergies, animal phobias and behaviors of either the service animal or the individuals that could result in an injury.

Protecting your organization

Liability exposure can include the unfair denial of services, employment, or housing. More immediate consequences can be embarrassment, loss of dignity and independence, and the unintended consequences of causing negative publicity associated with your organization.

When service animals are managed and monitored by 3rd party organizations, adequate contractual risk transfer controls are critical to protecting your organization from liability. Examples of 3rd party organizations could include services that coordinate drug sniffing dogs or offer group sessions with therapy dogs that are owned and managed by the 3rd party. Refer to our risk transfer interactive guide for more details on how it relates to contract controls and insurance requirements for these types of service providers.

All policies regarding the admittance and conditions for service, employment, housing, etc. of service animals and emotional support animals, should be drafted and reviewed by competent legal counsel. This will help assure legal enforceability and compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.

Service animal and emotional support animal policies

A clear, written program will help to assure the guidelines are followed and enforced consistently throughout your organization.

Consider the following elements when developing a program:

  • What your programs cannot limit when considering service animals/emotional support animals utilized by individuals in your facilities (such as enforcement of limitation on breeds of animals, requirement for ‘registration’ of a service animal)
  • Vaccination requirements
  • Licensing requirements
  • Responsibilities for care and supervision of service and emotional support animal (grooming, feeding, toileting, etc.) by the individual
  • Animal is housebroken (when relevant to specific animals that are not meant to defecate/urinate indoors)
  • The animal can be safely controlled by the handler
  • Leashing/ harnessing requirements
  • Policies should not restrict animals based on breed
  • Contract and hiring requirements for 3rd party service providers
  • Limitations on assistance animals that demonstrate a direct threat to the health and safety of others
  • Limitations for service-animals-in-training (depending on state or local requirements)
  • Qualified attorney review of the program
  • Employee training requirements for the policies

When service animals and/or emotional support animals are used by your population and in your programs, it’s important to develop clear organizational policies and training for your staff, assure you are meeting regulatory compliance guidelines relating to these animals and their health, and establish clear restrictions. This will help to assure the safety and wellbeing of your population while supporting their independence.


Public Facilities and Accommodations - ADA Title II and III

ADA Title 1 - Employment-


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