Service animals

Service animals are animals trained to assist people with disabilities in the activities of normal living. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires providing reasonable accommodations for persons with any disability. The US Department of Justice issued federal regulations defining service animals as that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.

Miniature horses have been added as a specific provision to the ADA. The miniature horse must be housebroken, under the handler’s control, can be accommodated for by the facility, and will not compromise safety regulations.

This definition acknowledges that:

  • An individual must have a disability as defined by the ADA, and
  • The accompanying animal must be trained to do specific tasks directly related to the individual’s disability.

If an animal meets this definition, it is considered a service animal regardless of whether it has been licensed or certified by a state or local government or an animal training program.

Internationally, the term assistance animal is equivalent to this definition of service animal.

Related policy

Related resources

Service, emotional support and therapy animals

Assistance animals: Rights of access and the problem of fraud

Animal-assisted interventions: Definitions

Client brochure—Service, therapy, and emotional support animals: The veterinarian's role

Clinic poster: Do you have an assistance animal?

FAQ: Considering partnership with a service dog

Webinar—Assistance animals: Counsel clients, prevent fraud