Welcome to Service Dog Laws District of Columbia
Service dog laws can be confusing, and service dog laws District of Columbia are no different. In this guide, we’ll go through service dog laws as they pertain to housing, employment, public access, air travel, and much more. For a related article, check out my guide to Emotional Support Animal laws District of Columbia.
In this detailed guide, we’ll go through the various service dog laws in the District of Columbia from different perspectives. This guide is for you if you are:
- A landlord or renter
- Business owner
- Family member
- Member of the community
- Someone who is interested in getting a service dog
- Someone who just wants to learn more
Table of Contents
Full & equal accommodations
As per DC laws, people who live with physical and mental disabilities in the District of Columbia are entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of:
- All common carriers
- Motor vehicles
- Railroad trains
- Motor buses
- Any other public conveyances or modes of transportation in the District of Columbia
- Hotels and other lodging places
- Places of public accommodation
- Places of amusement
- Other places to which the general public is invited in the District of Columbia
People with service animals have rights
People who live with physical or mental disabilities in the District of Columbia have the right to be with their service animal in any of the places listed above, and businesses and other places must not deny access because of the service animal.
No fees for service animals
People with service dogs cannot be required to pay an extra fee or surcharge of any kind for their service animals. However, they can still be held liable for any damages that may be done to premises or facilities by their service animal.
Service animals in training
- Service animal trainers in the District of Columbia who are training an animal to become a service animal have the same access and liability as a person with a disability
- This includes owners of service animals in training as they are permitted to train their animals on their own
What businesses can ask
Businesses may sometimes question whether someone is qualified to have a service animal at their place of business. When making this determination, a public accommodation or conveyance is allowed to make a reasonable inquiry, but it’s limited to the following:
(1) Whether the animal is required because of the person’s disability (service animals are for people with disabilities)
(2) The function or purpose of the animal, including the task or work the animal has been trained to perform (information about the disability itself is personal information and not required)
(3) Whether the animal meets the definition of a service animal provided in § 7-1009(5), and
(4) Whether the animal is housebroken
Definition of a service animal District of Columbia
(5) The term “service animal” means an animal, permitted in the District under § 8-1808(h)(1), including a guide dog, that is specially trained to assist a person who meets the definition of persons with physical or mental disabilities, and is one which a person with physical or mental disabilities relies on for disability-related assistance. The term also includes an animal in training by an organization that provides service animals to persons with physical or mental disabilities. The term does not encompass an animal whose sole purpose is to serve as a crime deterrent or that serves solely as a companion.Council of the District of Columbia
Do Service Dogs Have To Be Certified In the District of Columbia?
No. Service dog laws in the District of Columbia do not include a requirement for that. Service animals do not need to be certified in the District of Columbia or in any other state. As per the federal ADA laws for public access rights, requiring certification for a service dog as a condition of entry, to a place where the public is normally allowed or invited to go, is not permitted.
Businesses and other entities may not require documentation, like proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed; and especially not as a condition for entry. For more information about registration and why it’s not required, check out our detailed blog post article.
People who use service dogs have the right to train the dog themselves. As long as the dog performs a specific task for a particular person’s disability, and the task is related to helping the person with their disability, then it is a service dog.
There are multiple service dog laws & definitions
- The federal ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act, governs the use of service animals as they pertain to public access rights, plus more
The ADA is divided into five titles:
- Employment (Title I)
- Public Services (Title II)
- Public Accommodations (Title III)
- Telecommunications (Title IV)
- Miscellaneous (Title V)
- The FHA or Fair Housing Act governs the use of service animals federally in virtually all and any housing situations
- And the ACAA or Air Carrier Access Act governs the use of these special animals for air travel
- Additionally, each individual state may have additional laws around service dogs. Check out our guide to Service Animal Laws by State to learn more.
Sometimes, miniature horses are used as service animals in cases where they may be more appropriate for some people. This is often the case for people who live with mobility, stability, and/or balance issues. Miniature horses should be included whenever it is possible.
Federal ADA laws for public access
Read more on our blog about the federal service dog laws that are the same for all states as it pertains to public access right: ADA Service Dog Laws & FAQ – Easy Guide
Service Dog Work or Tasks
So, you may be wondering, what are these “work” or “tasks” that service dogs can do for people who are living with disabilities?
Well, it’s not that easy to answer this question completely, because there are just so many things that these wonderful animals can do to help humans. The list is very long and varied. Here is a partial list of some of the things service dogs can do for people that count as “work” or “tasks.”
- Helping someone who is blind or living with low vision to navigate through the world
- Alerting people who are deaf or hard of hearing to certain sounds, such as a phone ringing, a doorbell, a smoke alarm, or another important sound
- Pulling someone who is in a wheelchair
- Warning someone of a seizure about to happen, and/or keeping someone safe during the event, and/or going to get help after the event
- Warning someone that their blood sugar level is becoming dangerously too low or too high (diabetic alert dog)
- Warning someone about the presence of an allergen
- Retrieving items for someone who is unable to retrieve it for themselves, this can be anything from a telephone, keys, a bottle of water, or many different items
- Holding doors open for someone
- Finding an elevator, and pressing the button
- Carrying grocery bags from the store
- Providing stability and support for people with balance or stability issues
- Helping people who are living with certain psychiatric or neurological disabilities to disrupt dangerous behavior, for example, waking somebody from a nightmare who has PTSD
- Keeping someone with autism from wandering off and getting lost
- Reminding someone with depression or anxiety to take medication
- Read more: The Giant List of Service Dog Tasks (K9 Total Focus website)
Service Dog Identification
Let’s talk about service dog identification. As in, do service dogs need to wear a vest, a special identification tag, a collar, or a special harness or patch as part of service dog laws in the District of Columbia?
The answer to this is simply no
Under the ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act laws, do not require these special animals to wear any of the above. And yes, this might make it hard to tell a “regular” dog from a service dog, at times, especially considering many disabilities are invisible, but this is just the way it is.
And if you think about it, someone else’s disability is really a private matter, anyway. Requiring any of these items as a condition of entry or condition to participate in services and/or any public accommodation is discrimination.
Supervision of Service Animals
You may be wondering who is responsible for supervising service animals. The answer is the service dog handler is responsible for things like that, including feeding the dog, veterinary care, bathroom breaks, grooming, etc.
Businesses like restaurants, stores, movie theatres, and other “covered entities” as they’re known in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) are not responsible for caring for, or supervising these animals.
Local Vaccinations & Licenses
While the ADA does not specifically require service dogs to be licensed or vaccinated, some cities or counties have rules and laws around these types of things that apply to all dogs. These need to be respected by people who use service dogs as part of the service dog laws in the District of Columbia.
If your city or county requires that all dogs be vaccinated, then service animals are not exempt from these types of public health requirements, local animal control regulations, and local animal licensing and registration requirements.
Having said that, there are many local animal control agencies in the District of Columbia that waive the licensing and registration fees for service animals, as well as for service animals in training. Singling out service dogs, and requiring only service dogs to be licensed or registered is prohibited.
Refusing / Excluding a Service Dog
Businesses and other “covered entities” in the District of Columbia and other states need to be careful of refusing or excluding a service dog, because excluding one for the wrong reasons can be considered discrimination, and could potentially lead to lawsuits, bad reputations, and other negative consequences.
Let’s talk about the instances where or when service dogs may be excluded:
- If a service dog is posing a threat to other people, to other people’s health, safety, and/or wellbeing
- If a particular service dog has a history of being a threat to the health and safety and/or well-being of others
- If a service dog is not under the control of the handler. Service dogs must be under the control of their handler at all times. Usually, this is done with a leash, harness, tether, or, when a disability prevents the use of those items, voice control. Sometimes, the dog’s work or task requires it to be off-leash, but it should still be under the control of its handler at all times
- A legitimate safety reason is present
- If admitting a service animal would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program
- If the animal is not housebroken, in other words, goes to the bathroom inappropriately
- Barking uncontrollably, especially in a quiet environment such as a library, lecture hall, movie theatre, or another quiet place
*If a service animal is displaying any of this behavior, staff may ask the dog to leave the premises. However, the person with the disability must still be offered a chance to enjoy the business or service or any other public environment without the dog being there. As part of the service dog laws in Arizona, excluding the dog doesn’t automatically exclude the person.
Service dogs may not be refused or excluded for the following reasons:
- Because of the dog’s breed, or because of an assumption or stereotype about a breed (for example, a lot of people don’t like Pit bulls, and I get that they can appear frightening, and people have a hard time trusting them… and that is likely for good reason)
- Because someone has a fear of dogs, or fear of a certain size, type, or breed of dog
- Because someone has allergies to dogs, or allergies to dog dander
If a business or another “covered entity” finds themselves in a situation where they find someone with a service dog in the same area as someone with allergies, or fear of dogs, then both need to be accommodated as part of the service dog laws in Arizona.
Staff may need to get creative with this. But neither party is more important than the other. Perhaps each person could be assigned to different areas of the same room, or maybe to different rooms in the same facility if that might be an available option.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against disabled people in employment situations. In addition, it requires reasonable accommodation at the employee’s request. Allowing someone with a disability to bring their service animal into the workplace environment is a form of reasonable accommodation.
As with any accommodation request, the employer must consider allowing the use of a service animal at work unless doing so poses an undue hardship, or could disrupt the workplace environment.
Note that an employee may also request that an employer allow a companion animal or emotional support animal in the workplace as an accommodation. Reasonable requests in this situation are not restricted to dogs only. Read more on our blog: Federal ADA Workplace Accommodation Guide
- Federal ADA Service Dog Laws – General Guide & FAQ
- Federal ADA Workplace Accommodation Guide
- Emotional Support Animal Laws District of Columbia