Welcome to our service dog laws in Wisconsin guide and FAQ page, updated for 2023.
Service dog laws in Wisconsin require that a specially trained service dog (sometimes called an assistance dog) 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. For a related article, check out our guide to Emotional Support Animal Laws in Wisconsin.
In this detailed guide, we’ll go through some of the most common questions about service dogs in the state of Wisconsin. This includes where they are allowed in public, housing information, what businesses need to know, plus much more.
Introduction to Service Dog Laws Wisconsin State
Welcome to our new service dog laws Wisconsin state article. Service dogs are a special kind of working animal that help to make everyday life easier and/or safer and/or better for people who are living with disabilities. Service dogs can do so many things, including:
- Guide their handler safely around the community
- Inform their handler of important noises
- Grabbed dropped items
- Sense changing blood sugar levels
- Provide help to people living with PTSD, for example
- So many more…
Under the service dog laws, it seems to be generally understood that a service animal is a medical tool, not that different from other medical tools like hearing aids, or wheelchairs.
But some people seem to think that service dogs are the same as pets.
Service dogs are not pets. But I understand how people might think they are pets, because, well, they kind of look like one. The laws around these special animals can be confusing, and that is exactly why this website is a thing. Fake service dogs don’t help, either.
What Animals Can Be Service Animals in Wisconsin?
The only animals that can be service animals in Wisconsin are dogs of any breed or miniature horses. This is under the federal ADA laws for public access rights. However, under the Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals have rights in housing situations.
These animals are not so limited. Some people use an alternative animal, such as a monkey or a cat. Monkeys can grab items and bring them to their handler, often when the person is unable. Read more on our blog: Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog
State & Federal Service Animal Laws Wisconsin
There are both state and federal laws (statutes) and regulations regarding people with disabilities who use service animals.
People with disabilities are allowed the use of service animals in many locations where animals or pets are normally prohibited. Both federal and state law regulate service animals.
ADA – The Federal Service Animal Laws
The ADA is just one of the many different service animal laws that are in place, depending on the context. The ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – covers service animal rights in places of public accommodation.
In other words, the ADA requires the following “covered entities” to make reasonable modifications in their policies, rules, and practices to allow for people with service animals to have full and equal access.
- Public and private businesses
- State and local government agencies
- Non-profit organizations
- Other entities that provide services to the public
Places of worship like churches are not subject to the ADA laws. In other words, service animals can be excluded from a place of worship. However, individual establishments may make their own rules to include service animals, so do check ahead of time if this is relevant for you. Read more on our blog: Can Service Dogs Go Anywhere? & Federal ADA Service Dog Laws Easy Summary & FAQ
Service Dog Laws Wisconsin – ADA Service Animal Definition
There are different definitions of a service animal that we will get into, but the ADA definition is the most common and used for public access rights with service animals.
There are other definitions for housing and air travel.
The ADA’s specific definition of a service animal is:
“A service animal is a dog or miniature horse that has been trained to do a specific task or work in order to benefit a person with a disability.”ADA
The work or tasks that the dog does must be directly related to the person’s disability. Only dogs or miniature horses are accepted as service animals. Other species of animals are not accepted.
Having said that, service animals under the ADA definition can be any size, type, or breed of dog. Even if a city has banned a particular breed (such as pit bulls) a service animal of that breed must be accepted and included.
Emotional Support Animals and the ADA
Emotional support animals are explicitly not covered under the ADA. This means they do not have the same public access rights as service dogs. However, emotional support animals are covered under another law, known as the FHA – Fair Housing Act – for housing situations.
The basic but fundamental and important difference between service animals and emotional support animals is that emotional support animal are not specifically trained. They may not be trained at all.
Emotional support animals help people merely just by being there; in their presence. Read more on our blog: Emotional Support Animal Laws Wisconsin.
Service Dog Laws Wisconsin – Service Animals & Professional Training
Service animals do not need to be professionally trained. But, they must be trained to complete a specific task to benefit someone with a disability.
This training can be done:
- By the service dog owner or handler
- With help from a trainer
- A professional service dog training organization
- Any combination of these
And, service animals must be in the control of their handler at all times.
Read more on our blog: Service Dog Training Basics, FAQs
Miniature Horses as Service Animals
There are additional regulations for miniature horses as service animals.
Service Dog Laws Wisconsin – Information For Businesses
Of course, there are rules around what businesses can and can’t say and ask about service animals. Under the ADA, there are only two questions that businesses and other covered entities may ask of someone who is with a service animal.
And, these questions may only be asked when it’s not apparent why someone is using a service animal. If the disability or need for the animal is obvious, then staff may not ask these questions.
- Is the service animal required because of a disability?
- What tasks has the animal been trained to perform?
Businesses may not:
- Ask for documentation of a disability
- Ask for documentation about the need for a service animal
- Charge an additional fee for service animals
- Covered entities and businesses may only charge if a service animal damages property, and only if the business usually charges non-disabled customers for the same or similar damages, as well
Service Dog Laws Wisconsin – Excluding Service Animals
There are only a few occasions when a business or another covered entity can deny access to a service animal, or someone with one.
- If the service animal is not housebroken
- If the service animal is out of control of the handler and the handler is unable to regain control
- If the service animal poses a direct threat to human health and safety, the service animal may be denied entry
- Stereotypes based on breed, or past experiences are not sufficient to deny entry
- Allergies and fear of dogs are not sufficient to deny entry. Both the person with the service dog and the person with the allergy need to be accommodated
If a service animal is denied, the business or the covered entity still needs to allow the person with a disability to enter without their service animal being there. In other words, denying access to the animal does not necessarily deny access to the person.
Service Dog Laws Wisconsin – Where Can Service Dogs Go?
Service animals may go wherever the general public is allowed. There are a few exceptions, such as religious organizations and swimming pools. But generally speaking, if a business denies access to a service animal, it may be guilty of discrimination.
Service animals are allowed in hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, Airbnb, movie theatres, on transportation, community centers, National Parks, etc.
Read more on our blog: Can Service Dogs Go Anywhere?
Service Animals in Housing
The right to keep a service animal in a dwelling is controlled by:
These two acts both prohibit discrimination because of disability.
The definition for service animals under these acts is broader than the ADA definition
Any animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of someone with a disability is a service animal.Fair Housing Act
- Emotional support animals and all types of animals are included
- If you’re looking to live with your service animal or emotional support animal, you should file a request for a reasonable accommodation with your housing provider
- It is always a good idea to get a request for a reasonable accommodation in writing (paper trail)
Reasonable Accommodations in Housing
What are reasonable accommodations?
These basically modify existing rules, policies, and practices with the end result of allowing people with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the comfort of their dwelling, as other people do.
It is unlawful for housing providers to refuse a reasonable accommodation for someone with a disability if they meet these two requirements:
(1) Someone seeking to live with a service animal has a disability
(2) There is a disability-related need for the service animal
Housing providers can only ask for documentation of a disability or a disability-related need for a service animal if it is not obvious to the housing provider. Housing providers need to keep all documentation confidential.
Exceptions to Reasonable Accommodations
Can a landlord deny a service animal in Wisconsin?
Housing providers can be accused of discrimination if they refuse a reasonable accommodation for a service animal. But, there are a few exceptions to granting reasonable accommodations.
A landlord may deny a service animal in Wisconsin if it would be an undue financial burden, if the animal is a direct threat to the health and safety of others, or if the owner has allergies and will be living within the same building that has four or fewer units.
If granting a reasonable accommodation would lead to an undue financial or administrative burden, that would fundamentally change the services that are offered by the housing provider, then the housing provider can refuse.
Health & Safety
If the service animal poses a direct threat to human health or safety or causes substantial physical damage to the property, the housing provider may deny the request for reasonable accommodation.
In addition, if the owner of the building occupies a unit in a building with four or fewer units, and the owner or an immediate family member of the owner has an allergy to the service animal, they are able to refuse the request.
Size and Breed of Service Animals in Housing
Housing providers may not refuse requests to allow a service animal because of the size or breed of the animal. It is unlawful for housing providers to require additional pay or a security deposit for the service animal.
Housing Providers May Refuse a Service Animal
- If the person is not actually disabled
- If there is no need for the service animal
- If there was no documentation produced about the need for the service animal
- If allowing the service animal would cause an undue financial burden
- If the particular service animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others
- If the service animal would cause significant physical damage to the property
Service Dog Laws Wisconsin State Laws
Many states have their own state service dog laws in addition to or complementary to federal laws. Wisconsin State has laws that cover service animals in public accommodations and in housing situations. Read more on our blog: Service Animal Laws by State – Select Your State
Wisconsin State Service Animal Definition
Under Wis. Stat. 106.52(1)(fm), and the 2005 Wisconsin Act 354, service animals are defined as an animal that is individually trained, or is being trained to work or perform tasks to benefit a person with a disability. These animals include guide dogs and hearing dogs.Disability Rights Wisconsin
Service Dog Laws Wisconsin – Prohibiting Harassment of Service Animals
A unique aspect of Wisconsin law, compared to the federal laws, concerning service animals, is Wis. Stat. 951.097. This law prohibits the harassment of service animals in Wisconsin.
Specifically, no one may recklessly or intentionally:
- Harass a service animal
- Interfere with a service animal
- Injure a service animal
- Take possession of a service animal
- Cause the death of a service animal
This statute is found in Wisconsin’s criminal code. Prosecutors may file charges if it’s found that this law has been violated.
This law is unique because there is no federal regulation that is comparable. In other words, Wisconsin is able to protect service animals in a way that any federal law currently doesn’t.
Service Dog Laws Wisconsin – Disability Rights Wisconsin
Disability Rights Wisconsin can provide counseling on how to file a discrimination complaint. In addition, it can help you learn how to make yourself heard if your rights as an owner of a service animal are broken.
ADA Information Line
The Department of Justice operates a toll-free ADA Information Line. This is to help provide information and materials to the general public about the requirements of the ADA.
Do Service Dogs Have to be Registered in Wisconsin?
No, service dogs don’t need to be registered or certified, or professionally trained in the state of Wisconsin or any other state under the ADA laws. Requiring any documentation as a condition of entry would be considered discrimination and is prohibited.
In addition, service dogs don’t need to wear a special vest, or harness, or carry an ID. Check out our blog Which Service Dog Registry is Legitimate? to learn more about registrations, certifications, and why they are not required.
Legitimate service dog registration does not exist. There are websites selling registration papers online, but these are not recognized by either the ADA or the Department of Justice. Read more on our blog: Federal ADA Service Dog Laws, Easy Guide & FAQs
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
- ADA – Service Animal Information
- Toll-Free ADA Information Line
- Fair Housing Act Info
- Disability Rights Wisconsin Contact Page
- Wisconsin Statues on Service Dog Harassment
- Air Carrier Access Act