Did you know that September is National Service Dog Month? In honor of National Service Dog Month, we have put together some information about service dogs and service animals, and how venues, hotels, and other businesses can accommodate someone with a service animal.
What are service animals?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act a service animal means any dog 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. Animals other than dogs are not considered service animals under the ADA, except miniature horses. Miniature horses can be great for walking assistance or pulling people in wheelchairs.
How do service animals apply to hotels?
Service animals are not pets, so hotel pet policies do not apply to them. It is important for hotels to remember that a guest with a disability who uses a service animal must be provided the same opportunity to reserve any available room at the hotel as other guests without disabilities. Guests with service animals may not be restricted to “pet-friendly” rooms. In addition, hotels are not permitted to charge guests for cleaning fees for their service animals. However, if a guests service animal causes damages to a room, the hotel is permitted to charge the same fee as charged to other guests.
Even if hotel staff feel that guests are bringing false “service animals” it is important to remember that it is not appropriate to demand that the owners show proof or documentation of their service animal training. This does not mean that the hotel is powerless, if a service animal is not restrained, posing a danger to other guests, or is not housebroken, the animal can be ejected from public spaces.
The only questions that staff may ask about service animals are:
- Is this animal needed because of a disability?
- What work or tasks has the animal been trained to do?
Staff may not ask to see papers or certificates for the animal. Keep in mind that many individuals who use service animals do not have visible disabilities and service animals are not required to wear a vest or any markers that denote them as a service animal. Therefore, challenging them on their service animal is not allowed under the ADA and can be offensive.
How to interact with service animals and their owners:
- Train staff to interact properly with service animals and their handlers
- Speak to the owner, not the animal
- Do not pet the animal without permission
- Do not provide food to the animal
- Treat the owner with sensitivity and respect
- Discuss relief areas nearby with the owner. This provides a good opportunity for hoteliers to create a memorable interaction
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