Service dog laws in Alabama and other places can be downright confusing, and it’s partly because there are multiple different laws that govern the use of these spectacular animals. Service animals help people with disabilities to live better lives.
In this article, we will be going through a few of the most common questions about the federal service dog laws for public access rights, as well as any Alabama State-specific laws regarding these special animals.
Jump to a section:
- What is a Service Animal in Alabama?
- What Do Service Animals Do?
- Service Animals Are Not Pets
- Emotional Support Animals
- Where Are Service Animals Allowed?
- What Businesses Need To Know
- Local Health & Safety Codes
- Maintenance or Cleaning Fees
- Excluding Unruly Service Animals
- Psychiatric Service Animals vs Emotional Support Animals
- Miniature Horses
- Consequences of Misrepresentation of Service Animals
- General ADA FAQ
1. What is a Service Animal in Alabama?
Alabama sticks to the federal ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) definition of a service animal, which is, a service animal is a dog (or sometimes a miniature horse) that is individually trained to do work or perform certain tasks for someone who is living with a disability. And, the work or tasks that the dog or miniature horse does, needs to be directly related to that person’s disability.
If a dog or miniature horse meets this definition, then it’s a service animal. It doesn’t matter whether the animal has been certified or registered. Certification and registration of service animals is not required under the federal ADA rules.
In fact, no legitimate certification or registration entity exists. If you see these on websites online, they are not legitimate, and hold no legal weight according to the Department of Justice.
It’s important to note that only dogs or miniature horses can be service animals under the ADA laws and service dog laws in Alabama. Other types of animals can not be legitimate service animals, even though they may count as emotional support animals, for example.
Service animals are working animals, not pets. Think of them as an extension of someone who is living with a disability, much like a wheelchair or cane.
NOT service animals:
- Wild animals (monkeys, for example)
- Farm animals
2. What Do Service Animals Do?
Service animals help people who live with disabilities to do certain work or tasks that the person would otherwise may not be able to do for themselves.
Just a few examples of the different types of service animals and types of work or tasks that they can do to help people:
- A service dog can alert someone to certain sounds if someone is deaf or hard of hearing, such as a knock at the door, someone saying the person’s name, a smoke alarm, or other important sounds
- For people with mobility impairments, service dogs can pull a wheelchair, open and close doors, hold doors open, find and press an elevator button, and carry grocery bags, just as a few examples
- Service dogs can help people who have mobility impairments with balance and stability. Some people use two service dogs for this purpose
- Guide dogs are a type of service dog that can guide people who are blind or who live with low vision, to help them not only to cross busy streets, but to get around life in general
- Seizure alert dogs are a type of service dog that can either sense that a seizure is about to occur and take appropriate action, and/or keep someone safe during the event. Some dogs are trained to go and get help from other people if this type of event happens. Some dogs are even trained to call 911 from a dog-friendly phone
- Service dogs can be used for mental health conditions, and can help to remind someone to take medication
- PTSD psychiatric service dogs can interrupt problematic behaviour or nightmares, and calm people down during anxiety attacks, panic attacks, and other effects of the disability
3. Service Animals Are Not Pets
Under the federal ADA laws as well as service dog laws in Alabama, service animals are not pets, even though they make appear like pets.
The federal ADA service dog laws require that businesses and other “covered entities” allow the use of service dogs in their facilities and premises.
Businesses do not need to abandon their “no pets” policy altogether, but they are to make an exception to their “no animals” policy by allowing service dogs to accompany people with disabilities.
4. Emotional Support Animals
It’s important to distinguish between service animals and emotional support animals. Emotional support animals are not service dogs because they are not individually trained. They may not even be trained at all, and that is okay.
Emotional support animals help people just by being there, just by their mere presence. And while this is important for many people, emotional support animals don’t have the same public access rights as service dogs.
Any other type of dog that offers comfort just by being there, sometimes known as comfort or companion animals, do not count as service animals under the ADA or service dog laws in Alabama.
However, there are different definitions of assistance animal and service animal under the FHA or Fair Housing Act, and the ACAA or Air Carrier Access Act. These definitions are more broad, and often include coverage for untrained emotional support animals, or other types of comfort animals.
In other words, emotional support animals can be excluded from places of public accommodation such as restaurants, but may be included in a rental unit or virtually any other kind of housing situation.
5. Where Are Service Animals Allowed?
Under the federal ADA service dog laws as well as service dog laws in Alabama, service animals are generally allowed to go anywhere that the public is allowed or invited to go. This includes restaurants, movie theatres, taxis, grocery stores, community centres, etc.
There are only a few exceptions to this rule, a few of them being religious organizations, inside swimming pools (although the service dog must be allowed on the swimming pool deck, change room, and anywhere else the public can go), and certain sterile environments inside hospitals, such as a burn unit or operating room.
6. What Businesses Need To Know
Businesses need to be careful around service dog laws in Alabama and other states, because they are otherwise at risk of being accused of discrimination, which can be serious, not to mention bad for business.
Here are some general guidelines for businesses around service dog laws in Alabama:
- People with disabilities who use service dogs must not be separated or segregated from other, “regular” customers
- People with disabilities who use service animals must be treated the same as other customers. For example, people with disabilities who use service animals must be offered any room in a hotel that is available, and not restricted to “pet-friendly” rooms. Service animals are not pets.
- If a person’s disability and reason for using a service animal is obvious, such as a service dog pulling a wheelchair, asking about the disability or service animal is not permitted
- Many times, disabilities are invisible. In this case, if it’s not obvious why someone is using a service animal, staff may only ask two questions: Is this animal a service animal required because of a disability? And, What has the service animal been trained to perform?
- Requiring any kind of documentation as a condition of entry is not permitted. People who use service animals have a right to train the animal themselves.
7. Local Health & Safety Codes
Service dogs are governed by multiple laws, including service dog laws in Alabama state specifically, and this can get confusing. For example, there is a federal ADA law saying that people with disabilities who use service dogs can go anywhere the general public can go.
But what if a local health department code, or other state or local law, restricts a certain breed of dog, or a certain type of service dog?
The answer is simple: The ADA reigns. In other words, if a local health code restricts the type of service dog to guide dogs only, and a local business refuses to accept another type of service dog such as a PTSD dog, then that business will be in violation of the ADA laws. Businesses must follow the ADA like it’s a religion. The ADA takes priority.
Another example would be if a county or area has a restriction on the breed of dog, such as a pit bull ban. Businesses in that city or area must still allow a pit bull service dog. The ADA states that service dogs can be any breed, any size, and any type of dog, without restriction.
8. Maintenance or Cleaning Fees
Service dog laws in Alabama indicate that businesses and other “covered entities” are not permitted to implement a deposit or a surcharge on people with disabilities who use service animals as a condition of allowing a service animal to join the person with the disability. This is true even if pet deposits are customary. Service animals are not pets.
Having said that, a business or another place of public accommodation may charge a person with a service animal for damages that the service dog does to the facility or premises, as long as it is customary to also charge non-disabled people the same charges for pet or similar damages.
For example, if a service animal damages a couch inside a hotel room… The hotel may charge the person for the damages as long as other non-disabled people are charged the same fees for their pets that do similar damages.
- Service dog laws in Alabama indicate that taxis may not refuse service to people with disabilities who utilize service animals
- Private taxi companies must not charge higher fees to people with disabilities who are with service animals; they must charge the same fees or fares as other people who do not have service animals with them
10. Service Dog Laws in Alabama -Excluding Unruly Service Animals
Businesses and other covered entities may exclude a service animal under certain conditions:
- If the service animal’s behaviour is posing a direct threat to the healthy and safety of others, for example, a service animal displaying vicious behaviour towards other people, or a dog constantly barking during a movie or in a theatre, or a service dog eating off a plate at a restaurant is unacceptable
- When including the service animal would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business
- If the service animal is not housebroken (i.e. it “goes to the bathroom” inappropriately)
- Service animals must be under control of their handler at all times, preferably with a leash, tether, halter, or voice control or signal control if the leash or tether is not an option due to the nature of the disability or nature of the service animal’s work
- So if a service animal is not under control of the handler, and the handler does not take effective measures to control it, it may be excluded.
- Allergies, fear of dogs, or assumptions about certain dog breeds are not acceptable reasons to exclude a service dog
- When a service animal is excluded for one of the above reasons, the business or entity must still offer its goods or services to the person who was using the service animal without the animal being present. In other words, excluding the animal does not automatically exclude the person
11. Psychiatric Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals
Wondering about the difference between a psychiatric service animal and an emotional support animal? The difference is simple: a psychiatric service dog is individually trained to do a specific task or job for someone who lives with a disability; emotional support animals are not.
An emotional support animal is not individually trained, but can still help improve the day-to-day life of people who are living with mental health conditions and other conditions. Emotional support animals help people just by being there.
Service animals have:
- Public access rights
- Rights in housing
- And rights for air travel
Emotional support animals:
- Do not have the same public access rights
- But they do have rights in place under the Fair Housing Act when housing situations are involved
- And they may have rights for air travel, although individual airlines vary, so do check before you potentially need to be traveling in the air with your ESA
12. Miniature Horses
Miniature horses are the only type of animal – other than dogs – that can be service animals under the federal ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) for public access rights, as well as service dog laws in Alabama.
A miniature horse can legally be considered a service animal under the ADA if it has been individually trained to do certain tasks or work for someone who is living with a disability.
Whenever it’s possible and reasonable, businesses and other covered entities in Alabama must allow a miniature horse service animal to accompany a person with a disability.
In addition, businesses and other entities are required under the ADA to modify their policies to include miniature horse service animals whenever it is possible.
Miniature horses are typically 23-34 inches in height and approximately 70-100 pounds.
Businesses can use the following four assessment factors to determine whether a miniature horse can be accommodated in their facility or premises:
- Is the miniature horse housebroken?
- Is the miniature horse under control of its handler?
- Is the facility or premises able to facilitate the miniature horse safely in terms of its size, type, and weight?
- Will the presence of the miniature horse compromise legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for the safe operation of the business, premises, or facility?
According to the ADA and service dog laws in Alabama, Miniature horses must be accommodated whenever it is possible, appropriate, and safe to do so. If a service animal must be excluded, then the business must still offer its goods or services to the person without the animal being there.
13. Consequences of Misrepresentation of Service Animals
On September 1, 2019, new service dog laws in Alabama were created to combat the very troublesome but very real problem of “fake service animals” – pets that people have selfishly passed off as service animals for the chance to bring their pet everywhere they go.
It is now a crime to misrepresent a service animal, or a service animal in training in Alabama. Anyone who is guilty of knowingly and willingly misrepresenting themselves as the owner of a service dog, or service dog in training, will be guilty of a Class C misdemeanour.
This will result in a $100 fine and 100 community service hours. These community service hours are to be performed with an organization that serves or works with people who have disabilities.
14. General ADA FAQ
Here are some random answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and service animals.
- Service animals do not need to be professionally trained. People who use service animals have the right to train the dog themselves
- Service animals in training are not covered under the ADA. In other words, animals need to be fully trained before they are allowed public access rights. However, individual states may have varied laws.
- Although many service animals do wear a special patch or harness or some kind of ID, it is not necessary under the ADA laws. Asking for this is as a condition of entry to a business is a violation of the ADA service dog laws
- Businesses are never under any obligation to supervise or take care of a service animal in any way. This is 100% the responsibility of the service dog handler (the person with the disability or perhaps the animal’s trainer)
- Service animals are allowed to go with their human through food establishments like restaurants, salad bars, cafeterias, and other places where food is served.
- Sometimes people have more than one service animal, and businesses and other entities need to be accommodating whenever possible. If the second service animal can not be reasonably accommodated, then the staff may ask one of the dogs to wait outside or at another area.
- Hospitals must allow service animals into patient rooms. The only places where service animals are not allowed in a hospital setting is anywhere that the animal would be compromising safety of a sterile environment, such as in an operating room or burn unit.
- Service animals are allowed in ambulances whenever there is room. If there is no room for the animal or by having the animal there, it would make it difficult for the medical staff to do their jobs, then there needs to be arrangements made to transport the dog to the hospital. People should never be separated from their service animal whenever possible
- Service animals do not need to be licensed, registered, or certified under the federal laws. Businesses and other entities have no right to ask a person with a service dog for any of this kind of paperwork, or any paperwork at all, for that matter
- If a local county or city requires that all dogs be vaccinated, then service dogs are not exempt and must be vaccinated, too. The same goes for dog licenses.
- Service dogs can be any breed and any size and any type of dog. If a city, county, or local area has a ban on certain dog breeds, then service dogs are exempt. In other words, if a city has banned pit bulls, then service dogs that are pit bulls are still allowed.
- If someone with a service dog believes they have been discriminated against, they have a few options. They can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, or file a private lawsuit in state or federal court.
- Service animals can be excluded from entering swimming pools, but they must be allowed on the pool deck, change rooms, and anywhere else at the facility that the public can go
- Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons to exclude a service animal or service dog. If a business encounters this predicament, both parties need to be accommodated somehow, perhaps each can be assigned to different areas of the same room, or to different rooms within the same facility, if possible