Service animal

animal to assist people with disabilities

Service animals are animals that have been trained to do things to help people with disabilities. Service animals may also be called assistance animals, assist animals, support animals, or helper animals, depending on the country and what the animal does.

This service dog has been trained to press a button to open an electric door for his wheelchair-using owner.


There are three basic types of assistance animals:[1]

  1. Guide animals, like guide dogs, who guide (lead) people who are blind
  2. Hearing animals, like hearing dogs, who help the deaf by signaling when they hear important sounds
  3. Service animals, who do work for people with disabilities who are not blind or deaf

In the United States, as of the 2011 changes to Americans with Disabilities Act regulation only dogs may be used as service animals for the purposes of going to public places. However, in certain situations miniature horses are supposed to be accommodated the same as service animals that are dogs. The U.S. government does not recognize a right to use any other species as an assistance animal in public places where pets would not be permitted except on commercial aircraft. [2][3]


Dogs can be trained to do many different things to help owners with physical disabilities. For example, some dogs can be trained to:[4]

  • Sense that their owner is going to have a seizure, and help them in different ways (see seizure response dog)
  • Sense that their owner's blood sugar is getting low, and alert them to check their blood sugar
  • Go get help from a certain person, set off an alarm, or call 911 with a special phone if their owner has an emergency
  • Do things for owners in wheelchairs, like press buttons (see the picture at the top of the page), open a refrigerator, carry bags, open the door, and many other tasks
  • Help people who have trouble walking keep steady and walk safely

Dogs can also be trained to help owners with psychiatric (mental health) disabilities. For example, some dogs can be trained to:[5]

  • Bring medicine to a person who is having a panic attack
  • Bring a portable phone, or call 911 or a suicide hotline on a special phone if their owner is feeling suicidal (wants to kill himself or herself)
  • Wake up a person with PTSD who is having a night terror
  • Realize when their owner is getting angry or anxious, signaling them and trying to distract them (for example, by nudging them or licking their face)

These are just examples of some of the things service dogs can do. Service dogs can also be trained to do many, many more things for people with all kinds of disabilities.

Miniature horsesEdit

Miniature horses are horses that are usually less than three feet tall. They can be trained to:

  • Guide a blind owner, just like a guide dog would[6]
  • Pull a wheelchair
  • Help support an owner with Parkinson's disease, which can make it hard to walk and easy to fall. By bracing against the horse, the owner can walk more easily and safely.

An owner might choose a miniature horse as a service animal because they are allergic to dogs, or because their religion says that dogs are unclean. Miniature horses can also live and work for about 30 years, much longer than a service dog.

Capuchin monkeysEdit

Are not allowed in buildings with a "no animal" policy. They may be used at home or outside where any animal is allowed, but under the 2011 ADA revision, only canines and in some cases miniature horses, are legally recognized as public access service animals.

A United States TSA agent inspects a service monkey before a flight.

Capuchin monkeys can be trained to do things with their hands, like:[7]

  • Picking things up
  • Opening doorknobs
  • Turning on light switches
  • Turning the pages of a book
  • Microwaving food and opening drink bottles
  • Washing their owner's face

Helper monkeys can be helpful to people who have trouble with using their hands and arms, like people with quadriplegia, very bad spinal cord injuries, very bad injuries to their hands and arms, and multiple sclerosis.

Helping Hands - Monkey Helpers Service monkey washing itself

Helper monkeys are usually raised in a human home as infants. Then they get years of training, usually in schools by private organizations. On average, they take 7 years to train. They are usually able to serve as helper monkeys for 25–30 years (two to three times longer than a service dog).[8]

Not everyone agrees that monkeys should be service animals. Debbie Leahy, manager of captive wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States, says that monkeys are not real service animals and that sometimes they are abused during their training.[9]

In the United States, helper monkeys are also not counted as service animals under most laws.

Animals which cannot be service animalsEdit

If an animal has not been trained to do a job or task that will help a person with a disability, it cannot be a service animal.

Some people with mental health problems, like anxiety or PTSD, use different kinds of animals to give them comfort (make them feel better) when they are upset. These animals are called "comfort animals" (or "Emotional Support Animals").

Some people use unusual comfort animals, like snakes, tarantulas, guinea pigs, turtles, and rats.[10] Even if having the animal makes the owner feel better, these animals cannot be service animals because it is impossible to train them to do something to help a person with a disability.

Even if a comfort animal is a dog or a miniature horse, being a comfort animal is not the same as being a service animal. Comfort animals make their owners feel better just by being there. A service animal is trained to recognize that there is a problem and do the job they were trained to do to help their owner. For example, a psychiatric service dog would recognize that its owner is feeling upset and do a specific job, like get medicine, get help, or distract the person, to help them.[11]

Laws in the United StatesEdit

In the United States, service animals have some protection under the law. Different laws set rules about service animals in different situations. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) governs the use of service animals in public places.[12] Other laws, for example, control which service animals are allowed in housing. But these different laws do not agree on what counts as a service animal.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)Edit

In 1990, the United States passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Its goal was to protect the rights of people with disabilities. At first, it mentioned only guide dogs as service animals. Since then, it has been changed to include more protections. It now defines a service animal as any "dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities."[13]

This means that only dogs count as service animals under the ADA. However, there is a special section in the new ADA about miniature horses. This section says that places covered by the ADA (like businesses) should allow miniature horses "where reasonable."[13] To decide whether allowing a miniature horse into a place is "reasonable," those places are allowed to use four questions:[13]

  1. Is the miniature horse housebroken?
  2. Is the miniature horse under its owner's control?
  3. Does the place have room for the miniature horse?
  4. If the miniature horse is allowed in, will the place still be able to meet all of its safety rules and requirements?

If the answer to all four questions is "yes," the place needs to let the miniature horse in, and treat it like a service animal.

Other than service dogs and service miniature horses, no other type of assistance animal is protected under the ADA.

Protections for service animalsEdit

Under the ADA, it is illegal to refuse to let a service animal or its owner into:[14]

  • Any business
  • Any government agency
  • Any "public accommodation" (any place where members of the public are allowed to go) - like movie theaters, museums, malls, schools, parks, and ambulances

In these places, it is also illegal to treat a person with a service animal differently than any other person. The person with a service animal cannot be charged extra money, refused service, or kept apart from other people. A service animal can be asked to leave one of these places only if it is out of control (for example, if it is aggressive or urinates inside). The animal has to be on a leash, or controlled by its owner's voice or signals, all the time.

No one can ask for proof that the animal is a service animal. Owners do not have to carry any special papers or prove that their service animal can do a special task. If an owner and a service animal enter one of these places, workers are only allowed to ask two questions to make sure the animal is a service animal and not a pet:[13]

  1. Is this a service animal that you need because of a disability? (Nobody is allowed to ask the owner to explain what their disability is.)
  2. What work or task is the dog trained to do?

It is legal to train your own service animal in the United States.[11]

Service animals do not get these same protections in most religious organizations. Most religious organizations are exempt from the ADA's requirements, which means they do not have to obey the ADA.[14]

Other lawsEdit

Other laws have less strict definitions of which animals count as service animals. For example, the Department of Transportation's Air Carrier Access Act allows "dogs and other service animals" to ride with passengers on commercial airlines.[15]

The Fair Housing Act also requires housing providers to allow service animals (including comfort and emotional support animals). This law does not say that only certain animals are allowed.[16]

Laws in other countriesEdit

Mexico & South AmericaEdit

In most places in South America and Mexico, the place's owner or manager gets to decide whether to let a service animal in. There are no laws that protect service animals or their owners. In areas with many tourists, service dogs are generally welcomed without problems.

In Brazil, however, the President created a new law about service dogs in 2006. The law says that all service dogs in Brazil must be allowed to go anywhere that the public could go.[17] The Brasília Metro (the Brazilian public transportation system) has developed a program which trains guide dogs to ride it.


Different European countries have different laws about service animals. Some countries have laws that govern the entire country, and sometimes different parts of the country govern themselves.


In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 legally protects all assistance dog handlers.

However, with current laws, owners may not always be allowed to have their service animals with them in all situations.[18] Each state and territory has its own laws, which mainly have to do with guide dogs. Queensland has introduced the Guide Hearing and Assistance Dog Act 2009,[19] which protects all certified assistance dogs.


In Canada, any service animal is allowed anywhere that the general public is allowed, as long as the owner is in control of the animal. In Alberta, there is a fine of up to $3000 for someone who refuses to let a service dog into a place where everyone else could go.[20]

South KoreaEdit

In South Korea, the law says service dogs must be let into any areas that are open to the public. People who break this law can be fined for up to 2 million won[21] (about $1691 in United States dollars).

Related pagesEdit


  1. International Association of Assistance Dog Partners Retrieved on October 17, 2007.
  2. ADA Requirements: Service Animal, U.S. Department of Justice, retrieved January 14, 2016.
  3. New Horizons: Information for the Air Traveler with a Disability, page 11, U.S. Department of Transportation retrieved January 14, 2016.
  4. "Service Dogs". Service Dogs International. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
  5. Froling, Joan (July 30, 2009). "Service Dog Tasks for Psychiatric Disabilities". International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
  6. Guide Horse Retrieved on October 17, 2007.
  7. Helping Hands Retrieved on October 17, 2007.
  8. "Monkey Helpers Lend a 'Helping Hand'". Archived from the original on September 27, 2006. Retrieved August 14, 2006.
  9. Leahy, Debbie. Interview with Marc Silver. Why Justin Bieber Shouldn't Have a Monkey. 2 April 2013. Assessed on 23 April 2013.
  10. Hoffman, Jan (4 October 2015). "Campuses Debate Rising Demands for 'Comfort Animals'". New York Times. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and the ADA". Civil Rights Division - Disability Rights Section. US Department of Justice. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  12. "Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA". U.S. Department of Justice. 20 July 2015. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 "Service Animals". Civil Rights Division. US Department of Justice. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Service Animals". Civil Rights Division. US Department of Justice. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  15. "14 CFR Part 382 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel" (PDF). Department of Transportation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 December 2016. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
  16. "Fair Housing Information Sheet # 6: Right to Emotional Support Animals in 'No Pet' Housing". Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  17. "Decreto nº 5904". 2006-09-22. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
  18. Paul Harpur, ‘The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Australian anti-discrimination laws: What Happened to the Legal Protections for People Using Guide or Assistance Dogs?’ (2010) 29 University of Tasmania Law Review 1, 49-77.
  19. [ "Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act 2009"] Check |url= value (help) (PDF). Queensland. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  20. "Canada – Alberta – Service Dogs Act". 2009-01-01. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
  21. Matthew T. Larkin (10 November 2014). "Service Dogs: Many Asian Countries Setting a Good Example". Retrieved 11 December 2015.