Welcome to Service Dog Laws Colorado
Trying to understand service dog laws in Colorado? The world of service dogs can be confusing, especially because there are so many different types of service dogs, and different types of disabilities, and there are multiple laws that govern the use of these amazing animals.
There are different laws, depending on whether a housing situation, air travel situation, or public access rights are concerned. And while there is a federal service dog law (the ADA), each state may have its own individual service dog laws, too.
A service animal is not a pet. Sometimes people try to bring their pets to public places with them, as fake service dogs. Think of it as an extension of a person with a disability. It is allowed in anywhere that is open to the general public.
In brief, service animals may go with their (legally disabled) handler wherever the public can go. There are a few exceptions, like sterile hospital environments and religious organizations.
Service dogs of any breed may go to malls, restaurants, grocery stores, movie theatres, community centers, schools, buses, taxis, hotels, Airbnb, amusement parks, doctor’s offices, hospitals, trains, and National Parks, just as a few examples.
Table of Contents
Federal Service Dog Laws
Service dogs are protected, federally, under Titles II and III of the ADA, which is the Americans with Disabilities Act. This law governs the use of these animals as they pertain to public access rights.
In other words, protecting people who use service dogs when they’re out in public places, and allowing them access to the same public programs and services as other people who don’t use service dogs. Individual state laws may vary from federal laws, which is why each state has a separate page on our site.
Service Dog Laws Colorado – Service Dogs In Training Laws
The federal ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) laws do not include service dogs in training. This means that service dogs in training don’t have the same rights as fully trained service dogs under the ADA laws. However, individual state laws may vary. Most states have some kind of rights for service dogs in training.
In Colorado, service dogs in training are protected under the Colorado Revised Statute.
What this means is that service dogs that are being trained, and accompanied by their trainer, must be permitted to access public places, and must not be charged a fee because of the dog. Service dogs in training have the same rights in Colorado as fully trained service dogs.
Service animals in training, with their trainer, must be permitted into the following places, as a few examples:
- Public streets
- Public buildings
- Public facilities
- Public services
- Other public places
A trainer of a service animal, or an individual with a disability accompanied by an animal that is being trained to be a service animal, has the right to be accompanied by the service animal in training without being required to pay an extra charge for the service animal in training in or on the following places or during the following activities:
(a) Any place of employment, housing, or public accommodation;
(b) Any programs, services, or activities conducted by a public entity;
(c) Any public transportation service; or
(d) Any other place open to the public.Colorado Statute
Misrepresentation of Service Dogs
Unfortunately, due to the nature of service dogs, people with disabilities, and privacy issues, there have been an alarming number of reports about “fake service animals,” or animals being passed off as being service animals, when it is, in fact, just a pet.
This has been terribly disadvantageous for people who live with disabilities and who legitimately need to use service dogs to improve everyday life. Service dog laws Colorado include a state law HB16-1426. This law came into effect January 2017, and makes it a criminal offense to knowingly misrepresent a dog as being a service dog.
In other words, if someone knowingly attempts to bring their pet into a public place where pets are not allowed, and tries to say that it is a service dog just so that they can be allowed to include their pet, this would be a crime under service dog laws Colorado. People found guilty of this offense may first receive a warning. Subsequent incidents can result in fines ranging from $50-$500.
Service Dog Laws Colorado – Pit Bulls
It’s understandable that pit bulls are a controversial breed of dog that many people may be fearful of. Service dog laws in Colorado indicate that, while there are several city-specific ordinances where pit bulls are a banned breed, this does not include trained service dogs.
In other words, trained service dogs are allowed to be pit bulls, even if a city has banned pit bulls. Under the federal ADA service dog laws, service dogs are not restricted to a certain breed. Service dogs can be any breed, any type of dog, and any size of dog. Some people need larger dogs, and often, small breeds are needed for various purposes.
Dogs like greyhounds and Pomeranians are quite smart and can help people with PTSD and anxiety issues, and other tasks that require the dog to be close to the person. Larger dogs like Labrador Retrievers and full-sized poodles can help people with life’s “bigger problems,” like balance and stability.
Service Dog Laws Colorado – What Are Service Animals?
Under the federal ADA service dog laws, service animals must be either a dog or miniature horses. No other types of animals are accepted. There are no restrictions on the size, kind, type, or breed of dog, although some height and weight restrictions do exist for miniature horses.
The ACAA or Air Carrier Access Act, has a different – more broad – definition of service animal, or what they call assistance animal. This definition will be used when service animals will be present in the cabin of airplanes.
So, a service animal, under the federal ADA and service dog laws Colorado, for public access rights, is defined as an animal (dog or miniature horse) that has been individually trained to perform a task or do work to benefit someone who is living with a disability.
The work or task that the dog does for someone must be directly related to their disability. The work or tasks helps the person with everyday life by mitigating at least some of the effects of their disability. Service dogs are often professionally trained, but this is not required; it is completely optional under service dog laws in Colorado, and other states, too.
Requiring a proof of professional service dog training, or any service dog training for that matter is a violation of ADA laws. People who use service dogs have the right to train the dog themselves.
Service Dog Laws Colorado – Registration, Paperwork, Vests & Training
The following items are not required of service dogs under service dog laws in Colorado:
- Being listed on a registry (no legitimate service dog registration or certification registry exists, although you may find websites claiming to be such a thing on the internet)
- Any kind of paperwork or declaration that states the animal is a service animal, or trained as one
- Wearing a service animal vest, tag, or special ID badge. While many service dogs wear these items, they are optional, not mandatory
Service Dog Training
The very definition of a service animal is that it’s an animal that has indeed been individually trained to do work or perform a task for someone who lives with a disability. Having said that, there is a big difference between individually trained, and professionally trained. Service dogs do not need to be trained by a professional service dog training organization.
In fact, the people who use service dogs have the right to train the dog themselves.
Therefore, requiring any kind of proof of professional training, or training of any kind, as a condition of entry would be considered discrimination. Professional service dog training programs do exist, and they are amazing.
But, they often have long wait lists, and sometimes, they have staffing shortages (for example, not enough volunteer puppy-raisers) which can delay the process even further. These organizations often provide fully trained service dogs to people who need them, for no charge, even though the cost of training one dog is upwards of $40,000 and takes about two years.
Comfort, & Companion Animals
There are a lot of different kinds of working dogs, and it’s because dogs are truly a gift that we have in this world. Dogs are used for many purposes, such as for search and rescue, police work, guard dog work, in airports, and so many other places.
There are a few kinds of dogs that are similar to service dogs, but that are not considered service dogs. These are known as therapy dogs, companion dogs, comfort animals, and emotional support animals. Read about this on our blog: Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog
These types of dogs are not considered service animals under the federal ADA laws and it’s because they are not trained to do work or tasks for an individual with a disability.
Therapy dogs are pets that have been trained and enjoy going into many different environments such as schools and hospitals to benefit a number of different people. These dogs love to meet new people every day and offer comfort to different folks for different reasons.
Comfort, companionship, and emotional support animals help someone merely by their presence, just by being there. They are not individually trained. And they may not perform a specific task, other than being there.
While these dogs are just as important and can impact many people in a positive way, they are not service dogs under the ADA laws, which means that they don’t have the same public access rights. In other words, service dogs must be permitted into public places – anywhere the general public is allowed or invited to go – but emotional support dogs, comfort animals, therapy animals, and companion animals can be excluded; asked to wait outside, or otherwise not to enter or be included.
However, these animals may have rights under the FHA or Fair Housing Act, when a housing situation is concerned. The FHA has a different and more broad definition of assistance animal, and it indicates that the animal need not be specially trained in order to be a reasonable accommodation. In other words, emotional support dogs may be excluded from a restaurant but may be allowed into a housing situation as a reasonable accommodation to mitigate someone’s disability.
Service Dog Laws Colorado – Service Dogs Are Not Pets
Service dogs are working animals that do an important job, they are not pets. They should not be treated the same as pets. Think of a service dog as an extension of someone who lives with a disability; a part of them. Service dogs are important medical assistance devices that happen to be alive and a little bit furry at times.
- Do not talk to the service dog without first getting permission from the handler
- Do not feed a service dog
- Do not give instructions to a service dog
- Do not pet a service dog, unless you have prior permission from the handler
Control of Service Animals
Service dog laws in Colorado, and under the ADA laws, indicate that service animals including service dogs and miniature horses must be under control at all times. This means that there must be a leash, harness, or another kind of tether on the animal. The only exceptions are when the nature of the handler’s disability may prevent the use of these items.
Or, if the animal’s work or task would be hindered by the use of these things. But in these cases, still, the person using the service dog must maintain control over the animal. This can be done with voice control, signals, or another method perhaps.
Service Dog Laws Colorado – Information For Businesses
Staff at public and private businesses, and other entities, are required to include service animals, anywhere members of the general public are normally allowed or invited to go. People with service dogs must not be given a less desirable location because of the presence of their animals. In addition, requiring that a service animal wait outside is not permitted, and would likely be considered discrimination. Under service dog laws in Colorado, service dogs in training have the same rights as regular service dogs, even though the federal laws are different.
Asking a service animal to leave
However, service animals can be asked to leave for the following reasons:
- If the animal is being disruptive
- If the animal is being aggressive, or a threat to the health and safety of other people or animals
- If the animal isn’t housebroken; if it “goes to the bathroom” inappropriately
- If the animal is out of control; not in control of its handler, and the handler does not take effective action to control it
- For example, a service dog sitting at a table in a restaurant and eating food off of a plate is totally inappropriate
When a service dog is excluded or asked to leave, the services must still be offered to the person who was using the dog but without the dog being present. In other words, excluding the animal does not automatically exclude the person.
Excluding a service dog based on the breed of the dog is not acceptable. Service dogs can be any breed, any size, and any type of dog; there are no restrictions. Even if a city or county has banned a certain breed (such as a pit bull) a service dog is still allowed to be any breed, including banned breeds, and should be permitted.
Allergies & fear of dogs
Allergies to dogs or dog dander, and fear of dogs are not legitimate reasons to exclude or deny a service dog. In the case where a business or other entity finds itself with both someone with allergies, (or fear of dogs) and someone using a service dog, both must be accommodated.
This may be done by offering two different locations within one room to different people, or, perhaps, by assigning them to different rooms within the same facility. Facilities may need to get creative to accommodate both parties.
Taking care of service animals
It is not up to businesses to take care of service animals whatsoever. That is the responsibility of the service dog handler, which would be the person with a disability who is using the animal, or, it may be the service animal trainer.
Sometimes, it’s quite obvious that a person with a disability is utilizing a service animal in order to improve everyday quality of life or to help make life more accessible. For example, when a person who is blind is being helped by a service dog to cross a busy street.
However, the fact is that many disabilities are invisible. When this is the case, and if you aren’t sure if the dog is a service dog, there are only two questions that staff can ask of a person using a service dog.
- Is this a service animal?
- What work or tasks has the animal been trained to perform?
Businesses are not permitted under service dog laws in Colorado to:
- Ask someone about their disability
- Ask that the service animal demonstrate its task or work that it has been trained to do
- Demonstrate or show evidence that the animal is on a service dog registry (no legitimate service dog registry exists)
- Documentation or evidence that the animal has been professionally trained; people using service animals have a right to train the animal themselves
The following is a Class 3 misdemeanor in Colorado:
Withholding, denying, depriving, interfering with, or attempting to withhold, deny, deprive or interfere with a qualified person with a disability who is with a service animal, or a trainer of a service animal. If violations occur, violators can be subject to actual damages and attorney’s fees. Willful and wanton violators are subject to treble damages.
Service Animal Work or Tasks
What are these work or tasks, under service dog laws in Colorado? There are so many examples of what “work” or tasks a service animal can do to help someone who is living with a disability to mitigate the effects of disabilities and to help the person have an improved life experience.
Here are just a few examples of the kinds of things service animals can do for people with disabilities:
- Alerting someone who is deaf or hard of hearing to certain sounds, such as a knock at the door, a dropped item, the handler’s name, a phone, a siren, a smoke alarm, or another important sound
- Diabetic service dogs can alert someone if their blood pressure is becoming too high or too low
- Service dogs can help people with PTSD by waking them up from a nightmare or interrupting dissociation or anxious behaviors, panic attacks, flashbacks, or bad habits like nail picking
- A service dog can remind someone with depression or another condition to take their medication at a certain time
- Alerting someone to an allergen that may be present in food
- Service dogs can open and close doors, and hold the door open, they could open and close fridge doors and kitchen drawers, bathroom drawers, etc.
- They can retrieve items for someone, such as a dropped item, a phone, shoes, a purse or wallet, mail, or something from a grocery store shelf, as well as carry grocery bag(s)
- They can get help from people by calling 911 from a dog-friendly phone, or they can alert a stranger or family member to get help
- Guide dogs can help people who are blind or live with low vision, to guide them to different places in the community safely
- Seizure response dogs can lay across someone having a seizure to help reduce its effects or duration
- Stability or balance or mobility dogs can help people who aren’t good with balance to keep them stable and to get them to get around in life
- Autism dogs can help to keep people from wandering off and becoming lost
- So much more… The Giant List of Service Dog Tasks (K9 Total Focus)
Companion Animals for Housing
Companion animals and assistance animals are not service dogs.
Companion animals and assistance animals, which include emotional support animals, may not be necessarily trained, but they still help to improve the lives of people living with disabilities. They do some kind of work, help, services, or emotional support that benefit someone who is living with a disability.
They are not service dogs because they aren’t individually trained to do a specific job for a specific person. Consequently, they don’t have the same public access rights under the ADA laws, nor service dog laws in Colorado.
However, these types of animals are still utilized by people with disabilities and are still protected under federal and state service dog laws in Colorado regarding housing situations. These animals help people who are living with disabilities to alleviate at least one of the symptoms of their disability while they’re at home.
- A dog that barks when the doorbell rings can help someone who has a hearing impairment
- A cat can provide someone who lives with bipolar disorder a reason to get up in the morning, take medicine, and go to work
Only people who are living with disabilities are permitted to use companion and assistance animals at home. These animals are only allowed in the home. In other words, businesses, and other public places of public accommodation aren’t required to allow these types of animals into their business.
Therapy animals are not service dogs, either. And again, it’s because they aren’t specifically trained to help a particular person’s disability. Therapy animals aren’t necessarily owned by someone who lives with a disability. These animals are basically someone’s pet that enjoys helping a large number of different people in a variety of settings.
The owner brings this therapy dog to different places, such as schools or hospitals, and the dog may visit many different people to bring joy and for the people to experience a kind of therapy. Therapy animals are usually trained, and usually have very agreeable personalities who enjoy people. These animals do not have the same public access rights under the ADA, nor any rights for housing situations.
What is a Disability?
In order to qualify to use a trained service animal, someone must have a disability. So, you may be wondering, “What is a disability, exactly?” Well, the ADA and service dog laws Colorado define a disability as follows:
1) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of a person
Major live activities include things like caring for oneself, and also include major bodily functions. Here is a partial list, of some examples of the major life activities according to the ADAAA laws:
- Major life activities: someone being able to care for themselves, doing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working
- Major Bodily Functions: immune system function, normal cell growth, digestive system, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions
Service Dog Laws Colorado – What’s an impairment?
An impairment is something that limits one of the major life activities when it’s active. Some examples of disabilities are:
- Cerebral palsy
- Muscular dystrophy
- Multiple sclerosis
- Heart disease
- PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Intellectual disabilities
- Major depressive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Partial or completely missing limbs
- Mobility impairments that require the use of a wheelchair
- HIV infection
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
2) A record of such an impairment
This term, “A record of such an impairment” is exactly what it sounds like; it is a record, or a history, of having a mental or physical impairment or disability that substantially limits at least one (or more) of the major life activities listed above.
An example of this record or history would be someone who had cancer, but now the cancer is in remission.
3) Being regarded as having such an impairment
This is somewhat similar to the above example. It basically means that someone is “seen as” having this disability, even if they no longer have it.
So, an example would be someone who had cancer but is now cancer-free. However, at work, their boss selects another employee for a promotion instead, because the boss thinks that if the cancer were to come back, then the person wouldn’t be able to continue to fully complete their work tasks. Read more on our blog: What Disabilities Qualify for a Service Animal?
Where Service Animals Are Allowed
Where are service animals allowed as per service dog laws in Colorado? Generally speaking, service dogs are permitted anywhere the public can go. Here are a few examples of where service dogs are allowed:
- State legislatures
- City halls
- City councils
- State and local agencies
- State and local courts
- State police
- Local police and sheriffs
- State and local prisons and jails
- Public medical or health facilities or clinics
- State and local parks and recreation programs
- Public libraries and museums
- Places of lodging
- Establishments serving food or drinks
- Movie theatres and concert halls
- Places of exhibition or entertainment
- Places of public gathering
- Sales or rental establishments
- Service establishments
- Stations used for public transportation
- Public displays or collections
- Places of recreation or exercise
- Social service centres
Service Dog Laws Colorado – Religious Organizations
Religious organizations are one of the few places that are specifically excluded from the ADA service dog laws. This means that they can say “no” to allowing service animals in or on their premises. However, it’s important to note that if another “covered entity” under the ADA will be using a church, for example, for their program, then the program must then comply with the ADA rules.
For example, if a school district will be operating a preschool program inside a church, then the school district is required to comply with the ADA laws, which, of course, indicate that service dogs are allowed. In these kinds of instances, it might be necessary to make some adjustments. If the church is, for some reason, not accessible, and/or it is not willing to make changes to be accessible and/or to allow service dogs, then the school program may need to find another, more suitable location.
If you think that you have been the subject of discrimination by a public or private business, another public accommodation, or a government entity, you have the right to file a complaint. You can do so with the Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD) or the Department of Justice (DOJ).
If your discrimination complaint is against a preschool, an elementary school, a secondary school, a college, a university, or a public library, you can also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR). You can also file a private lawsuit in state or federal court.
Service Dogs in Public Primary & Secondary Schools
Public schools, we’re talking Kindergarten to grade 12, must comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) laws. In addition, they must also comply with two others:
Under the ADA rules, service animals must be under the control of the person who is using the animal, and this includes in the K-12 context. Generally speaking, it’s not reasonable to require the staff at schools to control or take care of service animals. The only exception to the rule would be in the case where the student’s IEP team determines that help with the animal is appropriate and necessary.
Allergies in Schools
It’s common to encounter people with allergies in school settings. This can include staff as well as students. According to the Department of Justice, allergies are not legitimate reasons to deny access to a service dog or service animal. Schools must find a way to accommodate both the person with the service animal, as well as the person with the allergies. Schools may need to get creative with this.
Discrimination Complaints in Schools
Unfortunately, discrimination can occur. If you feel you’ve been the subject of discrimination by a public school in Colorado, you have some options. You have the right to file a complaint with:
- The US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights
- The Colorado Department of Education
- Filing a private lawsuit in State or Federal Court
Colorado Emotional Support Animal Laws
In Colorado, emotional support animals are governed by various laws. Here are some facts about CO emotional support animal laws in different contexts.
- Emotional support animals (ESAs) are not automatically exempt from a housing provider’s no-pet policies
- Someone with a disability can request a “reasonable accommodation” for an ESA in a housing situation, and housing providers need to be accommodating unless they can show that allowing an ESA would be an undue burden on its operations
- ESA’s do not need to be specially trained in order to qualify for reasonable accommodation for a housing situation
- Animals other than dogs may also function as emotional support, therapy, or assistance animals in housing situations under the Fair Housing Act (I believe that is why ESAs are called “ assistance animals,” not “service dogs” under this Act)
- Payment may be required for any specific damage done to premises by an ESA
- It is illegal to charge someone with a disability an extra fee to keep a guide or service dog or an emotional support, therapy, or assistance animal (ESA)
- Emotional support animals are no longer included in the ACAA (Air Carrier Access Act) definition of service animal, therefore…
- ESAs may not travel in the cabin of a plane with their human under the ACAA; although, individual airlines may vary. ESAs may still travel through the air as a pet
Public access rights
- Emotional support animals are not covered by the ADA for public access rights, so they can be denied access to public places, although individual businesses may vary
- ESAs can still visit “pet-friendly” public accommodations with their handler
- ESAs can be requested as a reasonable accommodation in an employment situation under the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Emotional support animals do not need to be registered or have for any reason. No legitimate ESA registration system exists. Websites selling ESA papers online are not recognized by the Department of Justice nor the ADA, and purchasing one of those pieces of paper from the internet does not give someone any special rights. What is needed for housing and/or employment is a letter from a doctor or other medical professional merely stating the animal is required
Does Colorado Recognize Emotional Support Animals?
No, Colorado does not recognize emotional support animals (ESAs) for public access rights as it does service animals. Emotional support animals can be denied access to public places. However, it’s good to note that ESAs may have rights when it comes to a reasonable request in a housing or employment situation, under the federal FHA (Fair Housing Act) and/or ADA laws.
The ADA Is Similar
The following is a quote from the Americans with Disabilities Act:
“While Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. These support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.
“Even though some states have laws defining therapy animals, these animals are not limited to working with people with disabilities and therefore are not covered by federal laws protecting the use of service animals. Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning.” – Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network
- Disability Law Colorado – Fake Service Animal Fines
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Colorado Revised Statute
- Air Carrier Access Act – Air Travel
- Fair Housing Act
- Office of Disability Rights – Denver Brochure
- Colorado Service Dog Resource Guide
- 2008 ADA Amendments FAQ’s
- ADA Service Dog Laws, General FAQ for Public Access Rights
- Service Dog Laws By State
- Service Dogs in Training (SDiT) Laws By State