Welcome To Service Dog Laws Rhode Island
People with disabilities who use service animals are protected in Rhode Island by various laws. These include Rhode Island’s human rights laws, the federal ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and there are additional Acts for housing and air travel. People with service dogs generally have the right to be accompanied by their service dog anywhere the public may go.
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 centers, schools, buses, taxis, hotels, Airbnb, amusement parks, doctor’s offices, hospitals, trains, and National Parks, just as a few examples.
Table of Contents
Service Animal Definitions
There are different definitions of service animals and service dogs. It all depends on the context.
The ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – governs the use of service animals where public access rights are concerned, but there are many other laws, too.
ADA Service Dog Definition
The ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – is a federal law. It governs the use of service animals when public access rights are concerned. This law is also referred to for housing situations and employment situations with service animals.
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.” Also, fake service dogs don’t count.
Fair Housing Act Definition of Assistance Animal
The FHA – Fair Housing Act – is another federal law that governs the use of service animals – or what is known in this context as “assistance animal” when housing situations are concerned.
Under the FHA, “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.”
Air Carrier Access Act Definition of Service Animal
The ACAA – Air Carrier Access Act – is what is used when service animals will be taken to the skies with their handler. Fully trained service animals are allowed in the cabin of airplanes with their handler as long as they meet the ACAA requirements, and fill out any required paperwork or documents prior to their flight.
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, companion animals, and service animals in training are not service animals.
Additional Service Dog Laws in the U.S.
State-specific service animal laws are a thing. Even though we have the federal ADA laws, each individual state may or may not have additional or “state-specific” service dog laws for their own area.
Check with individual states for anything that may be different from the ADA laws. A common example is that under the ADA, service dogs in training are not allowed public access rights. However, most states extend varying degrees of rights to service dogs in training.
- Service animal in training laws by state – These are individual state laws, not federal ADA laws
- Section 504 – is similar to the ADA, and protects the rights of students with disabilities in educational settings.
- IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – is yet another law that in place for students with disabilities in the United States.
Certification and Registration
The truth is that you are not legally required to register or certify a service dog in Rhode Island or any other state in the U.S. A legitimate ADA or Department of Justice service dog registration and certification entity does not exist for the U.S.
Registration and certification done online from non-government websites do 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 or an emotional support dog.
Types of Disabilities
An exhaustive list of ADA-approved disabilities does not exist. In general, the following types of disabilities are covered, and people with these types of disabilities are eligible to get a service animal to help with their disability or disabilities.
- Physical disabilities (amputation, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis)
- Sensory disabilities (low vision, blindness, deafness, Autism spectrum disorder)
- Psychiatric disabilities (anxiety, depression, PTSD)
- Intellectual disabilities (Down syndrome, developmental delay)
- Other mental disabilities (eating disorder, personality disorder)
According to the ADA, a disability is defined as:
(A) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
(B) A record of such an impairment; or
(C) Being regarded as having such an impairment (i.e. someone who previously had been treated for cancer, but is now in remission, and an employer gives a promotion to someone else because of worry cancer might return).
Major Life Activities Means (some examples):
- Caring for oneself
- Performing manual tasks
Major bodily functions means (some examples):
- Functions of the immune system
- Normal cell growth
- Reproductive functions
Technically speaking, only dogs can be 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 some more.
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 to miniature horses whenever possible. Reasonable modifications need to be made in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by a 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
Service Animal Work or Tasks
In order to qualify for a service animal in Rhode Island and other states under the ADA service dog laws, the “work” or tasks that a service animal performs must be directly related to a specific person’s disability. No disability = No service animal.
So what exactly are these “work” or tasks that service animals do to help their human counterpart every day? There are so many; too many to mention here.
But here are a few examples:
- Assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks
- Alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds (their name, smoke alarm, knock on the door, etc.)
- Providing Deep Pressure Therapy or Tactile Stimulation
- Providing non-violent protection or rescue work
- Pulling a wheelchair
- Waking someone up from a nightmare
- Carrying grocery bags
- Assisting an individual during a seizure
- Alerting someone to the presence of allergens
- Retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone
- Providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities
- Helping people with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors
- Read more: The Giant List of Service Dog Tasks (K9 Total Focus)
*The crime deterrent effect of an animal’s presence does not count as work or tasks for the purposes of the ADA definition of a service animal.
Emotional Support Animals
Under the ADA laws for public access rights, only service dogs and miniature horses are included in the definition of service animals.
Emotional support animals, animals for well-being, animals for comfort, or animals for companionship do not count in terms of work or tasks for the purpose of the definition under the ADA.
In other words, comfort animals, emotional support animals, or therapy animals are not service animals and are not covered by ADA laws.
Emotional support animals aren’t usually task-trained, and that’s the main difference between them and service animals. Read more: Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog.
It’s important to note that emotional support animals do have coverage under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This means that emotional support animals can be refused from restaurants and other public places, but not necessarily from housing situations.
In terms of air travel, emotional support animals are no longer included in the definition of Service Animal from the ACAA or Air Carrier Access Act. This means emotional support animals are no longer eligible to fly in the cabin with someone. But, they may still travel as pets.
Rhode Island Emotional Support Animal Laws
In Rhode Island, emotional support animals are governed by various laws. Here are some facts about RI 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 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…
- 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
- 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 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
Psychiatric Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog
What’s a psychiatric service dog, and what’s the difference between that and an emotional support animal? Although there are psychiatric service dogs, they are not the same as emotional support, comfort, companionship, or therapy animal.
Psychiatric service animals are task-trained to perform tasks or work that help people with disabilities to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and ease their effects.
Tasks performed by psychiatric service dogs may include reminding the person to take medicine, waking up a person from a nightmare, providing safety checks or room search for someone living with PTSD, and interrupting repetitive behavior, just as a few examples.
The difference between an emotional support animal and a psychiatric service animal is the tasks or work the animal performs. Emotional support animals typically don’t perform tasks at all but help people just by being there. Read more on our blog: Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – 17 Examples
Service Animals in Training
Here is one of the most obvious places where the federal and state laws may – and do – differ. Under the federal ADA laws, a service animal must be fully trained before it’s allowed public access with its handler…
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.Americans with Disabilities Act
In fact, at this time, all states except for four (Hawaii, Michigan, Washington, & Wyoming) have some kind of state service animal laws that do include service dogs or service animals in training. The details vary slightly. So be sure to check the service animal in training laws by state.
Rhode Island Service Animal in Training Laws
Let’s take a look and see what the Rhode Island Code says about service animals in training.
Every trainer or puppy raiser of a service animal shall have the same rights and privileges as stated in § 40-9.1-2 for every person with a disability. Each trainer or puppy raiser during the training of a service animal is liable for any damage done to persons, premises, or facilities by that service animal.Rhode Island Code
Professional Training of Service Animals
A lot of people seem to be under the impression that service animals must be professionally trained. This is not true. Under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) federal laws, service animals do not need to be professionally trained.
Service dogs do need to be trained. But who trains them is up to the owner. The people who will be using a service animal have a right to train the animal themselves, or with some help.
There are professional organizations that train service dogs, but these often have very long waiting lists. Many people train their service dogs either by themselves or with the help of a dog trainer. Read more on our blog: Service Dog Training Basics, FAQs + More
Where Can Service Animals Go?
In a nutshell, people with disabilities who use a service animal may go anywhere the public can go, according to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. There are a few exceptions, a few of them being religious organizations and sensitive hospital environments like the operating room. Read more on our blog: Can Service Dogs Go Anywhere?
As a few examples, people with disabilities may take their service animal to the following places:
- Grocery stores
- Cafeterias and restaurants
- Hospitals (ER, exam rooms, waiting rooms, patient rooms, except for sterile environments like the operating room)
- Taxis and other forms of transportation
- Movie theatres
- Community centers
- Amusement parks
- Government buildings
Establishments that sell or prepare food need to generally allow service dogs/animals in public areas. This is true even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises. A dog’s hair has the same likeliness to get into the food as a human’s.
Information for Businesses
It’s obviously important for businesses and other “covered entities” to be aware of service dog laws in Rhode Island as well as federal laws. If not, they could be accused of discrimination.
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?
Service Dog Laws Rhode Island – Businesses Must Not…
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
Allergies & Fear of Dogs
Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons to deny access or refuse a service dog team (service dog + person with a disability).
When businesses encounter a person who is allergic to dog dander, and a service dog team, that must spend time in the same room or facility, they both need to be accommodated.
Sometimes this happens in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter. Both can be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility. Businesses may need to get creative.
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
As we’ve already talked about, service animals perform various work or tasks to help someone with a disability to live safely and independently. U.S. Department of Transportation Americans with Disabilities Act regulations define a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or another animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to:
- Guiding individuals with impaired vision
- Alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds
- Providing minimal protection or rescue work
- Pulling a wheelchair
- Fetching dropped items
When riding transit, customers with disabilities who use service animals are responsible for maintaining control over their animals (and caring for them) at all times.
Riders are also responsible for knowing the best way to board and position their service animal on the vehicle, especially if the service animal may be required to provide assistance (“tasking”) during the transit trip.
Service animals may not block aisles or exits.
According to ADA regulations, every transportation employee or operator who serves people with disabilities needs to be trained so that they know how to provide non-discriminatory service in an appropriate and respectful way.
When serving passengers who are blind, operators should:
- Identify themselves
- Speak directly to the customer instead of through a companion
- Use specifics such as “there are five boarding steps and a 10-inch drop to the curb” when giving directions
Transit agencies should be aware of the following rules under ADA:
- Operators must allow all service animals on board
- Operators may not ask for proof of service animal, certification or of the customer’s disability
- Operators may not require a person traveling with a service animal to sit in a particular seat on the vehicle or charge a cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals onto the vehicle unless the animal causes damage