Welcome to Service Dog Laws Texas
Did you know that Texas has the second largest number of people living with disabilities of all the states? (According to Texas government). Interestingly, more than half live in the following counties: Harris, Bexar, Dallas, Tarrant, Hidalgo, Travis, El Paso, Collin, Denton, and Cameron.
What does this have to do with service dogs? Well, only everything. Service dogs are specially trained animals that assist people who live with disabilities. Although service dogs live with their human handlers, they are not considered pets from a legal standpoint, so pet fees can not be applied under any context.
Service dogs are trained to help people by doing a wide variety of tasks, for a wide variety of both visible and – importantly – invisible disabilities. Some examples of these issues include:
- Mobility issues: difficulty walking or getting up or down stairs
- Psychiatric Disabilities: PTSD, depression, anxiety
- Cognitive issues: having a hard time with concentration, remembering information, or the decision-making process
- Independent living issues: difficulty doing basic errands, like grocery shopping, and doctor’s appointments
- Hearing problems such as deafness or difficulty hearing
- Vision problems: blind or difficulty with basic seeing, even with glasses
- Basic self-care: difficulty with dressing or bathing
The world of service dogs can be highly complex and confusing, but we’re going to break it all down. There are various service dog laws depending on the context. Service dogs are a unique gift to humans, and so require unique laws. Let’s dive into this!
Table of Contents
Where can service dogs go?
- Service dogs may go with their (legally disabled) handler basically wherever the public can go
- There are a few exceptions, such as a sterile hospital environment (operating room, burn unit) and religious organizations are exempt from service dog laws requiring access
- Service dogs – with their human handler of course – can be any breed and are allowed in 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.
Multiple Service Dog Definitions & Laws
The definition of “service dog” can mean different things, depending on the context.
Americans with Disabilities Act (Federal ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities, including those who use a service dog. Forbidding a person with a disability who uses a service dog from accessing a place, service, or another facility where the public is allowed to go would be considered an act of discrimination.
The ADA is divided into five titles:
- Employment (Title I)
- Public Services (Title II)
- Public Accommodations (Title III)
- Telecommunications (Title IV)
- Miscellaneous (Title V)
“A service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”ADA Frequently Asked Questions
The Federal Fair Housing Act
Fair Housing Act (FHA) is another federal act which protects those with disabilities when virtually all and any housing situation is concerned, including rental units. Under the Fair Housing Act, both emotional support animals as well as service dogs are referred to as “assistance animals.”
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.U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Air Carrier Access Act – Federal
Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) is relevant when service animals will be flying in the sky. Fully trained service animals may fly in the cabin of aircraft with their handler as long as the prerequisites and paperwork have been done ahead of time.
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.U.S. Department of Transportation
Additional service dog laws in Texas
- In addition to the federal laws, individual states may have service dog laws for their area.
- 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 in place for students with disabilities in the United States.
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment division (Title I) of the ADA
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
Emotional support animals are another important type of animal that assist and support folks who live with disabilities. These types of disabilities are often the invisible type.
Just because someone “looks fine” doesn’t mean they are living their best life, free of issues. Quite the opposite can be true. If there ever was a good example of “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” this would be it.
- ESAs do not have public access rights under the ADA laws (meaning they can be denied access to places such as malls, restaurants, taxis, grocery stores, etc.)
- ESAs no longer have rights in terms of air travel, and can no longer ride in the cabin of aircraft with their handler (but may still be able to travel as a checked pet)
- ESAs are protected under the Fair Housing Act, and don’t need to be individually trained, as they often help humans by their mere presence
- Check out our write-up: Emotional Support Animals – The Ultimate Guide to learn much more about them
Therapy dogs are not service dogs, or emotional support dogs, but something completely different.
Therapy dogs are social-butterfly-human-loving-well-trained pets that go with their owner to places such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, victims of traumatic events, and other locations.
Together, they visit a large number of different people. Therapy dogs help people various ways, including reducing anxiety in stressful situations.
Registration/Certification of Service Dogs in Texas
Service dogs don’t need to be registered or certified in Texas, or any other U.S. state. In fact, legitimate registration and certification doesn’t exist.
You may see service dog registration and certification websites online… but these are not endorsed or even recognized by the ADA or the Department of Justice, and convey no legal rights.
Buying a piece of paper from the internet does not turn a dog into a service dog. Check out our article “Which Service Dog Registry is Legitimate?” to find out more and learn why registrations are not required. Be aware of websites attempting to make money from people who don’t know any better.
There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.ADA – Frequently Asked Questions
Professional Training of Service Dogs
Professional training of service dogs is not required. In other words, people with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.
Some people use a program, some people have a trainer help them full-time or part-time, some people train the dog themselves, or they may use a combination of all of these strategies.
Vest, ID, Special Harness
Vests not required in any context
- The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness
- This means that a fully trained service dog may appear to look like a pet
Many people who have a service dog do use a vest or harness. It seems to help with public access issues.
It can also help to let people in the public know that the dog is supposed to be working – not mingling and making new friends – and to avoid distracting it.
Distracting a service dog could be potentially dangerous to the handler, as the dog may miss an “alert” to an impending medical event or issue.
- Under the ADA, “covered entities” (businesses etc.) may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry
- Mandatory registration of service animals is not permissible under the ADA
Public Establishments May Only Ask Two Questions
1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
2. What type of work is the dog trained to perform?
That’s it. That’s all. If the person with the service dog can answer these two questions appropriately, then the team (dog and human) must be allowed in the public where other members of the public may go. Personal information and details about disabilities are not required.
What Businesses Must Know
Under the ADA, businesses and other places that serve the public must not:
- Ask about the person’s disability
- Require medical documentation
- Require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog
- Ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task
General Rights Under Law for Service Dogs Of Texas & Their People
- In Texas, a person with a disability, who is accompanied by a service dog, has rights under the law
- Public facilities and common transportation carriers are required to admit and assist
- This also includes dogs-in-training who are accompanied by a trainer, for training purposes
- Further, the law requires that in the case of a disaster, service animals are provided with transportation, temporary shelter, and evacuation if necessary
- Staff must not charge people with disabilities extra because of their dog
- If the dog causes damage, the responsibility will be on the person using the animal
- Employees of the state are permitted ten days of paid leave to attend a training program. This training will familiarize them with service dogs
- People with disabilities and their service dogs have legal rights to full and equal access to housing
- Service animals are exempt from pet deposits
- Even a property with a “no animals” or no pets policy must allow a person with a disability who uses a service dog to keep the dog
- The only exception is single-family homes where the occupants lease, rent, or furnish for compensation only one room
- Check out our complete guide to the Fair Housing Act & ESAs to learn more about the process of requesting a service dog as a reasonable accommodation for housing (ESAs and service dogs are both referred to as “assistance animals” under the Fair Housing Act).
Can a Landlord Deny a Service Dog in Texas?
Generally speaking, a landlord may not deny a service dog in Texas simply because they feel like it. Service dogs can only be denied in particular scenarios. Otherwise, denying them will be considered discrimination.
These scenarios are:
- If allowing the service animal would somehow impose a large financial and administrative burden
- If allowing the service dog would require an extreme change to the rental property
- If the assistance animal is dangerous and would be a threat to the health or safety of others
Where Are Service Dogs Allowed In Public?
Under the ADA, a person with a disability does not have to be separated from their service dog when they are using a public service or public facility. This means they are allowed to go almost anywhere that the general public is normally allowed or invited to go. Think of a service dog more like a wheelchair or cane rather than a cute pet.
Here are some examples:
- Pubic modes of transportation
- Hotel, motel, or other places of lodging
- College dormitory
- Educational facilities
- Any other place where food is for sale
- Medical clinics, examining rooms
- Hospital cafeterias, hospital patient rooms
- Auditoriums and convention centres, theaters and sports stadiums
- Gyms, bowling alleys, recreational facilities, zoos, parks
- Libraries, museums, social services centers
- Read more on our blog: Can Service Dogs Go Anywhere?
If Access is Denied to a Service Dog Texas
If a person with a disability is denied access to facilities because of their animal and there is no valid reason for it, a criminal penalty may apply to the offending party. Fines may apply and these are not more than $300 and 30 hours of community service.
“Person with a Disability” Defined
“Person with a disability” means a person who has:
(A) a mental or physical disability
(B) an intellectual or developmental disability
(C) a hearing impairment
(E) a speech impairment
(F) a visual impairment
(G) post-traumatic stress disorder
(H) any health impairment that requires special ambulatory devices or services
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
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 behaviors
- Alerting the handler to rage or other types of strong emotions
- Interrupting self-harming behaviors
- 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.
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
Service Dogs In Training (SDiT)
Service dogs in Texas and other states do not need to be trained by a professional service dog training program, or professional trainer (under the ADA laws). But, they do need to be trained by somebody.
Many people train their dogs by themselves or with some help, as many service animal programs have limited resources and long waiting lists.
Under the federal ADA laws, service animals in training do not get the same public access rights as fully trained service animals.
Having said that, most states have some kind of state laws that allow service animals in training some kind of public access rights. Read more on our blog: Service Animal In Training – U.S. State Guide
At this time, only four states do not cover service animals in training under their public accommodation laws.
Service Dog Laws in Texas Cover Service Animals-In-Training
The following is a quote from Texas Service Animal Laws:
“Texas law requires public facilities and common transportation carriers to admit a person with a disability accompanied by a service dog for assistance and also to admit a trainer of service dogs accompanied by a dog for training purposes.” – Texas Disability Law
(i) A service animal in training shall not be denied admittance to any public facility when accompanied by an approved trainer.