Service animals are animals that have received special training in order to be assigned to an individual who has a disability. Service animals are used to assist disabled individuals to live their life as independently as possible.

Service animals were previously associated with individuals who were blind or had other severe vision impairments. Currently, however, service animals are not used to assist individuals with numerous types of disabilities, including:

  • Physical conditions;
  • Emotional conditions; and
  • Psychological conditions.

Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that is the main source of guidelines for how to determine the eligibility of a service animal. It is important to note that therapy animals or companion animals are not considered to be service animals pursuant to the ADA.

What Rights Do Service Dog Owners Have?

Pursuant to the provisions of the ADA, individuals who are assigned service dogs have a right to bring those animals into public places. This applies even if a business or location does not typically permit pets.

These establishments are required to adjust their no animals policies in order to comply with ADA standards. The ADA also requires a public place to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

In addition to amending a no pet policy to make an exception for service dogs, reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Permitting a disabled employee time off from work to bring their service dog to the vet;
  • Allowing an individual with more than one service dog to escort them in a public place; and
  • Allowing tenants to live with service dogs in “no pet” housing.

What is Considered a Public Place?

The ADA defines a public place as any location where the general public is invited or permitted to be located. Therefore, a public place many include, but it not limited to:

  • A restaurant;
  • A grocery store;
  • A school;
  • A shopping center;
  • A hotel; and
  • A medical office.

The ADA also permits a service dog to accompany a disabled individual on various modes of public transportation, including buses and airplanes.

When Would a Service Animal not be Allowed?

The definition of a service animal is located in Title III of the ADA. This provision states that a service animal is required to be trained specifically to complete tasks that an individual with a disability cannot do for themselves.

These tasks may include tasks which are:

  • Physical;
  • Sensory;
  • Psychiatric;
  • Intellectual; or
  • Mental.

For example, a service animal may:

  • Provide guidance for an individual who has impaired vision;
  • Alter its owner to sounds if they are hard of hearing;
  • Pull a wheelchair;
  • Alert assistance if their owner is having a seizure; or
  • Assist an individual with limited mobility in retrieving objects, for example, a phone or medication.

Regardless of whether or not an animal is untrained or trained, wild or domestic, it will not be considered a service animal pursuant to the ADA if it cannot perform specific tasks.

Where Are Service Animals Allowed?

In general, service animals are typically allowed any place where people are allowed. As noted above, an individual with a disability who relies on their service animal may bring that animal into:

  • Restaurants;
  • Hospitals;
  • Public transportation;
  • Stores;
  • Parks; and
  • Other establishments or areas.

In addition, Title III of the ADA requires a landlord or an employer to make reasonable accommodations for a tenant who has a disability of any kind, which includes complying with certain requirements.

A reasonable accommodation means that the modification must improve or work on a home environment for a disabiled individual. The cost of those improvements, however, must be reasonable.

In addition, the modifications are not required to involve major changes, just enough that an individual is given an equal opportunity to do activities such as successfully perform their job or enjoy their living space. Service animals are included in the definition of reasonable accommodations.

However, an individual who has a disability is required to prove undue hardship in order to receive permission to have a service animal in their workplace or in a residence which otherwise does not allow pets. Undue hardship means that it would be impossible or difficult for the individual with a disability to perform the job or to maintain an adequate standard of life and wellness without their service animal being present.

In contrast, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has stated that there is no specific definition for a service animal when it comes to the workplace. This means that an employer will be required to consider allowing a service animal for medical conditions which involve a need for therapeutic or emotional support.

If, however, an animal is found to be disruptive or is not required to perform specific tasks which are related to the employee’s disability, the employer will not be required to admit that service animal into the workplace. It is important to review state laws because some states have passed regulations which allow certain service animals in the workplace.

What Kind of Accommodations am I Entitled to?

As noted above, a public place will generally permit a service dog in the facility unless there is a specific safety concern or if allowing access to a service dog would fundamentally alter the nature of the public place. In the majority of cases, a public place is required to adjust its policies, practices, and procedures to accommodate a service dog.

For example, in California, it is not required that a zoo permit a service dog to be near an exhibit where there is no physical barrier separating the service dog and the zoo animal. However, the zoo is required to provide a kennel to shelter the dog until the owner can pick it up later.

Who Can Use a Service Animal in Wisconsin?

Pursuant to Wisconsin law, an individual would qualify for a service or companion animal if they have certain impairments, including:

  • Vision;
  • Hearing; or
  • Mobility.

How do I Prove that My Pet is a Service Animal?

A pet, most often a dog, would be required to have certification papers from a school that is approved by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development for training assistance animals.

What if My Landlord has a No-Pets Policy?

Pursuant to Wisconsin law as well as federal law, a landlord is required to allow an individual to keep their service animal. There are, however, requirements, including:

  • The individual with the disability must be able to show the landlord the dog’s credentials upon request;
  • The tenant would also be responsible to ensure that the animal’s sanitation needs were met; and
  • The tenant is liable for any damage to the premises by the animal.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have a disability and your right to live with a companion animal in Wisconsin is being denied, it may be helpful to consult with a Wisconsin real estate lawyer. Your lawyer can assist you with navigating this complicated legal matter and assert your rights against the landlord’s discrimination.

If you are required to file a legal claim in order to assert your right to your service animal, your lawyer will assist you through the process and represent you if you are required to appear in court. Your lawyer can also assist you with addressing any other issues, questions, or concerns you have related to your service animal.