Service Dog Law in the United States: Maximize Your Knowledge of Rights and Regulations

service dog laws in the united states

How are Service Dog Laws Defined in the United States?

The landscape surrounding service dog laws can be a confusing space due the multiple laws that govern them. In addition, there are many fake service dogs which can add further confusion to those trying to obtain, and interact with service dogs.  Below is a summary of the different pieces of legislation that govern service dogs (and emotional support dogs) in the United States.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal service dog law that provides protection for individuals with disabilities in the United States. This service dog law legislation governs the use of service animals and ensures that individuals with disabilities have equal access to public and private places, including housing and employment. The ADA sets guidelines and standards for the use of service animals in various settings, and when questions or disputes arise regarding the use of service animals in specific situations, the ADA is considered as a relevant and applicable law. By protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities and ensuring that they have equal access to the same opportunities and privileges as those without disabilities, the ADA helps to promote a more inclusive and equal society.

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal service dog law that deals with discrimination in housing based on certain protected characteristics, including disability. It also regulates the use of service animals and emotional support animals (ESAs) in housing. The FHA recognizes the right of individuals with disabilities to keep their service animals and ESAs with them in their dwelling, regardless of any landlord policies or restrictions against animals. This means that landlords must make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities who need their service animals or ESAs to assist with their disability-related needs. This is a key aspect of the FHA’s efforts to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities and ensure that they have equal access to housing opportunities.

The Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is also a federal piece of legislation and it governs the rules around air travel and flying in airplanes with service animals. Pursuant to the ACAA, service animals must be allowed in the cabin of air planes with their handler as long as the meet the ACAA requirements. Airlines may require handlers to fill out any required paperwork or documents prior to their flight. Prior to flying with your service animal, it is highly recommended that you contact your airline in advance. 

Prior to to 2021, emotional support animals were also permitted to fly, but as a result of amendments to the ACAA, only service dogs have a statutory right to fly in the cabin. Flying with ESAs is discretionary, and up to individual airlines to monitor. That being said, if your ESA is small, and can fit in a carrier under the seat, there is a good chance your ESA will be permitted to fly with you, despite case law related to the ACAA. However, we always recommend consulting with your airline prior to travel.

Service Dog Laws By State

Despite the several laws that govern service dogs federally, each individual state has the right to implement specific service dog laws for their own jurisdictions. Be sure to consult local and state service dog laws, in addition to federally regulated laws. For example, Colorado State law provides that a fine for misrepresenting an animal as a service animal can result in fines up to $500, however only after a verbal or prior written warning.  Some states, including Florida, also expressly permit service dogs in training to have full access rights, while others do not. For additional state service dog laws, consult or guides below:

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