Welcome To Service Dog Laws Pennsylvania
Welcome to our service dog laws Pennsylvania guide and FAQ page, updated for 2023.
Service dog laws Pennsylvania require that a specially trained service dog (sometimes called assistance dog, especially in housing) be allowed to accompany a person with a disability to all public accommodations and public carriers, with a few exceptions. There are multiple laws that govern the use of these special animals.
In this detailed guide, we’ll go through some of the most common questions about service dogs in the state of Pennsylvania. This includes where they are allowed in public, housing information, what businesses need to know, plus much more.
Where can service dogs go?
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 centres, schools, buses, taxis, hotels, Airbnb, amusement parks, doctor’s offices, hospitals, trains, and National Parks, just as a few examples.
Table of Contents
Summary of Service Dog Laws Pennsylvania
Part of the reason why the world of service dogs can be so confusing is that there are multiple laws around them. Fake service dogs don’t help, either. Here is a summary of the different laws relevant to Pennsylvania and their main purpose in general.
The ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – is a federal law.
- Title II of the ADA governs access to state and local government services, programs, and facilities, including public transportation
- Title III of the ADA governs access to public accommodations, including private transportation (like taxis)
Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act (Section 504)
Section 504 is similar to the ADA, and forbids organizations and employers from excluding or denying people with disabilities. It also defines the rights of people with disabilities to participate and have access to program benefits and services.
Section 504 governs:
- Federal government services
- Government programs
- Government activities
- State and local government services, programs, and activities that receive federal funding
- Privately-owned businesses or schools that receive federal funding
The Federal Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)
The ACAA governs the treatment of people with disabilities on airlines and in airports. The ADA also applies at airport terminals.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA)
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) governs state and local government activities. In addition, it also governs many privately-owned public accommodations within Pennsylvania.
Local Human Relations Acts
Some local Pennsylvania municipalities – including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – have enacted local laws that may govern service animals in some types of public spaces.
The Pennsylvania Criminal Code
The Pennsylvania Criminal Code makes it a summary offense for proprietors, managers, or employees of public accommodations to deny access to people with disabilities who are with certain types of services animals.
Registration and Certification
The truth is that you are not legally required to register or certify a service dog in Pennsylvania or any other state in the U.S. Service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the ADA does not have a registration or certification system.
Registration and certification done online from non-government websites does not convey any legal rights under the ADA or the Department of Justice. Buying a piece of paper from the internet does not turn a dog into a service dog.
Service Animal Definitions
Since there are different service animal definitions depending on context, we’ll go through the different ones right now. As you’ll see, they are similar, but the differences are important to understand.
ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act Definition
The federal ADA law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in:
- State and local government
- Public accommodations
- Commercial facilities
- United States Congress
Under the ADA Americans with Disabilities Act federal laws, “Service animal means any dog 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. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for purposes of this definition.”
The work or tasks that the dog does must be directly related to a specific person’s disability. In addition, the work or tasks must help to mitigate at least some of the effects of that disability.
It’s important to note that while dogs are the only animal defined here, there is a separate ADA provision for the use of a miniature horse as a service animal.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) Definition of Assistance Animal
Under the FHA (Fair Housing Act), “An assistance animal is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability. An assistance animal is not a pet.”
The Air Carrier Access Act Definition of Service Animal
Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), “A service animal means a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Animal species other than dogs, emotional support animals, comfort animals, companionship animals, and service animals in training are not service animals.“
Read more on our blog: American Airlines Service Dog Info – The Easy Guide
The PHRA (Pennsylvania Human Relations Act) does not use the term “service animal.” Instead, it uses “guide or support animal.” In the Act, there is no further definition of what this means. On the surface, it doesn’t seem to be limited to dogs or miniature horses. This means it could conceivably include other types of animals. Also, it is a valid argument that therapy animals are “support animals” in this state, that indeed may be protected by the PHRA.
Service Animal Training
The ADA does not require that service animal training to be conducted by any recognized organization or authority. Also, it doesn’t require any specific approval, certification, or license to show that an animal has been trained.
Service animal programs often have long wait lists, and many people “owner-train” their service animal. Some people may use a combination of owner-training as well as having a dog trainer help with the process.
Pennsylvania Service Dog in Training Laws
Service Animals in Training
While the ADA does not cover service animals in training, most state laws do. Of course, this can be confusing. Here’s the federal ADA quote for a reference.
“Service animals-in-training are not considered service animals under the ADA. Under the ADA, the dog must already be trained before it can be taken into public places. However, some State or local laws cover animals that are still in training.”
Pennsylvania State Law on Service Animals in Training
(a) Offense defined.–A person is guilty of a summary offense if he, being the proprietor, manager or employee of a theatre, hotel, restaurant or other place of public accommodation, entertainment or amusement, refuses, withholds or denies any person, who is using a service, guide or support dog or other aid animal to assist an individual with a disability or who is training a service, guide or support dog or other aid animal for an individual with a disability, the use of or access to any accommodation, advantage, facility or privilege of such theatre, hotel, restaurant or other place of public entertainment or amusement.Service Animal In Training Laws By State
What About Service Animal Socialization Training?
When discussing service animal training programs and organizations, people who usually don’t have disabilities are often used to train service animals before they are matched with a person with a disability.
This process often involves socializing the service animal prospect by going to a variety of different public places. This allows the puppy or young dog to experience and get used to different sounds, smells, other animals, children, etc.
As already mentioned, he Americans with Disabilities Act does not require governments or public accommodations to let people who don’t have disabilities to take these service animals-in-training into their buildings or facilities.
The PHRA (Pennsylvania Human Rights Act), however, expressly protects the rights of handlers or trainers of service animals. They are allowed to take the animals into government buildings and public accommodations.
Service Animal Work or Tasks
No matter what definition you look at, almost all of them include a stipulation that a service animal do “work” or “tasks” for a particular person’s disability. (Except the FHA Fair Housing Act definition includes emotional support animals, who usually don’t do “tasks”).
So let’s talk a bit more about what these tasks are, exactly. It’s important to know that the tasks are varied and wide-ranging. There are a large number of different tasks that service animals can do.
Here are some common examples of service animal work or tasks. Not an exhaustive list by any means.
- Guiding a person who is blind or can’t see well
- Alerting someone who is deaf or hard of hearing to sounds (like their name, a knock at the door, a smoke alarm, or even intruders)
- Waking someone up from a nightmare
- Pulling a wheelchair
- Grabbing dropped items
- Carrying grocery bags
- Paying for items with a bank/credit card
- Opening and closing doors
- Assisting someone during a seizure
- Providing physical support and/or balance and stability
- Reminding someone with an intellectual disability to take a medication
- Keeping a child with a disability safe and from wandering off and getting lost
- Autism assistance
- Helping someone with a psychiatric or neurological condition by interrupting problem behaviour (As one example, read about how DPT Service Dogs help people with PTSD and other conditions)
Read more: The Giant List of Service Dog Tasks (K9 Total Focus website)
Think of a service dog as an aid that helps someone with a disability to better access services (or to be able to better access and enjoy life in general), much like a wheelchair or cane. Service animals are not pets, even though they may appear like pets.
Where Does The ADA Apply?
- Places of public accommodation which include…
- Places of lodging
- Places serving food or drink
- Places of entertainment
- Places of public gathering
- Sales or rental establishments
- Service establishments
- Stations used for specified public transportation
- Places of public display or collection
- Places of recreation
- Places of education
- Social service center establishments
- Places of exercise or recreation
- Public services, programs, and activities, which include: schools, and state and local government offices
- Public transportation
- Private transportation, like Greyhound bus service
- The workplace
- Airport terminals
Technically speaking, only dogs are service animals under the federal ADA definition for public access rights. Other species of animal, whether that be wild animals or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of the ADA.
Service animals may or may not be other types of animals in terms of housing and employment situations. But for now, let’s talk about public access rights.
Even though dogs are the only service animal defined by the ADA, there is a separate provision in the ADA that does cover miniature horses.
What this means is that a miniature horse that has been trained to do work or tasks for a specific disability shall have the same rights as service dogs wherever possible.
Businesses and other covered entities need to provide access for miniature horses whenever possible. Reasonable modifications need to be made in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by person with a disability.
There are additional assessment factors for miniature horses
To determine whether to allow a miniature horse into a specific facility, the business will need to consider the following:
- The type, size, and weight of the miniature horse and whether the facility can accommodate these features safely
- Whether the handler has sufficient control of the miniature horse
- Whether the miniature horse is housebroken
- Whether the miniature horse’s presence in a specific facility compromises legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation
Info For Businesses
It’s obviously important for businesses and other “covered entities” to be aware of service dog laws Pennsylvania as well as the federal laws. If not, they could be accused of discrimination.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits the following:
- Asking about a disability
- Requiring medical documentation
- Requiring a special identification card or training documentation for the dog (or mini horse)
- Ask that the animal demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task
- Charge an extra fee because of the animal
- Segregate the customer with a disability from other customers
Permitted Questions to Ask
If the reason for the service dog is obvious, then businesses and other covered entities may not inquire about the use of the animal. When it’s not obvious – and many disabilities are invisible – businesses may only ask two questions to someone using a service dog. That’s it.
The questions are:
(1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
(2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
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: Federal ADA Workplace Accommodation Guide
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Psychiatric service dogs are a type of service dog that perform work or tasks related to psychiatric disabilities.
A few examples of these types of disabilities include:
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety disorders
Here are a few examples of some psychiatric service dog tasks:
- Providing reminders to take medication at a certain time
- Service dogs can lay across their handler and apply pressure (Deep Pressure Therapy) during a panic attack, for example
- Provide tactile stimulation or grounding
- Interrupting dissociative episodes or other repetitive or problematic behaviours
- Alerting the handler to rage or other types of strong emotions
- Interrupting self-harming behaviours
- Retrieve an item, such as a water bottle and medication for a panic attack
- Wake someone up from a nightmare
- Interrupting flashbacks
- Searching the house or home to ensure it’s clear and safe before the handler enters
- Providing a “reality check” to help with hallucinations
- Stabilizing a routine for someone
- Read more on our blog: Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – 17 Examples
The difference between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs is simple: Psychiatric service dogs are trained to do at least one task for a specific person’s disability, and the task is related to the disability.
Emotional support animals are not task-trained like this, and provide comfort and other benefits by their presence alone. Emotional support animals are not service dogs under ADA laws, but they do have some rights when it comes to housing and employment situations.
“No Pets” Policies
A service animal is not a pet. And so, even a clearly posted “no pets” policy is not an applicable reason to deny a person with a service animal. People with disabilities can bring their service animal into facilities that have “no pets” rules.
Local Health Regulations
Can a facility exclude a service animal based on local health regulations or concerns?
No, businesses and other facilities under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and PHRA (Pennsylvania Human Rights Act) specifically allow individuals with disabilities to use service animals. These two laws would overtake any local health regulations.
Excluding Service Animals
Service animals can only be excluded (asked to leave) under the following circumstances:
- If it interferes with legitimate safety requirements of a facility, such as an operating room, or a burn unit inside a hospital
- If the animal is not housebroken (it “goes to the bathroom” inappropriately)
- If the animal is out of control, and the handler is unable to take steps to effectively control it
- If the animal is causing a threat to the health and safety of others
A few examples of unacceptable service dog behaviour include:
- A service dog running away from its handler
- A service dog who is constantly barking out of control
- A service dog that jumps on people
- A service dog who eats food off a table at a restaurant
- A service dog who is growling at people in a grocery store
When a service animal is asked to leave because of one of these reasons, the staff or people at the business or facility must still offer their services to the person, but without the dog being there. In other words, excluding the dog doesn’t automatically exclude the person.
Pennsylvania Emotional Support Animal Laws
In Pennsylvania, emotional support animals are governed by various laws. Here are some facts about PA 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 a 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 think that is why ESAs are called “ assistance animals,” not “service dogs” under this Act)
- Payment may be required for any specific damage done to the 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…
- ESA’s 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
- 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 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 piece of papers 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
Disability Rights Pennsylvania
If you need more information or need help, you can contact Disability Rights Pennsylvania (DRP).
- 800-692-7443 (voice)
- 877-375-7139 (TDD)
Read more on our blog:
- Service Animal In Training Laws By State
- Federal ADA Service Dog Laws Summary & FAQ
- Service Dogs in Hotels