Welcome to our service dog laws in Wisconsin guide and FAQ page, updated for 2022.
Service dog laws in Wisconsin require that a specially trained service dog (sometimes called assistance dog, in housing situations and in Europe) 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 Wisconsin. This includes where they are allowed in public, housing information, what businesses need to know, plus much more.
Jump to a section:
- State & Federal Laws
- ADA Federal Service Dog Laws
- ADA Definition
- Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
- Professional Training
- Miniature Horses & ADA
- Info for Businesses
- Excluding Service Animals
- Where Can Service Dogs Go?
- Service Animals in Housing
- Reasonable Accommodations in Housing
- Exceptions to Reasonable Accommodations
- When Housing Providers May Refuse a Service Animal
- Wisconsin State Laws
- Wisconsin Definition
- Service Animals in Training
- Prohibiting Harassment – Laws
- Disability Rights Wisconsin
- ADA Information Line
1. 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. Keep reading to get into all the details.
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 for 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: Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Service Dog Laws Wisconsin – ADA Service Animal Definition
There are different definitions of 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 for air travel.
The ADA’s specific definition of 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.
5. 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 animals are not specifically trained. They may not be trained at all.
Emotional support animals help people merely just by being there; with their presence.
Read more: Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog
Does Wisconsin Recognize Emotional Support Animals?
Wisconsin is subject to the federal ADA and FHA or Fair Housing Act laws. While emotional support animals are not recognized as a service dog under the ADA definition, they do have some rights in housing situations. Under the Fair Housing Act, people with disabilities who have emotional support animals and service animals must not be denied equal opportunity to housing situations.
In other words, an emotional support animal can be denied access to public places such as restaurants, movie theatres, taxis, government buildings, and community centres… But they must be allowed into housing situations as long as some basic requirements are met.
How Do You Get an Emotional Support Animal?
To make sure you’ll be able to bring your emotional support animal into a housing situation, you’ll need to first speak with your doctor. In order to qualify for an emotional support animal in housing, you must have a disability-related need for the animal.
If your disability is invisible, you will need a doctor’s letter, explaining that there is a real need for the animal. That’s it. There is no legitimate registration for emotional support animals in the U.S. There are websites selling these papers, but they are not recognized or necessary under the Fair Housing Act laws.
Wisconsin Emotional Support Animal Laws
In Wisconsin, emotional support animals are governed by various laws. Here are some facts about WI 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
6. 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: Service Dog Training Basics, FAQs
7. Miniature Horses as Service Animals
There are additional regulations for miniature horses as service animals.
8. 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
9. 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 off 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.
10. 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 inside swimming pools. But generally speaking, if a business denies access to a service animal, they may be guilty of discrimination.
Read more: Can Service Dogs Go Anywhere?
11. 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)
12. 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.
13. Exceptions to Reasonable Accommodations
Can a landlord deny an emotional support 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 an emotional support 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 cause substantial physical damage to the property, the housing provider may deny the request for the 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 security deposit for the service animal.
14. 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
15. Service Dog Laws Wisconsin State Laws
Many states have their own state service dog laws in addition, or complementary to the federal laws. Wisconsin State has laws that cover service animals in public accommodations and in housing situations.
16. 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
17. Service Dog Laws Wisconsin – Service Animals in Training
Service animal trainers can bring service animals into places of public accommodation and amusement, as long as the service animal is wearing a harness or service dog cape.
Places of public accommodation can ask whether the service animal is needed for a disability, and if they are trained.
If the service animal is being trained while in a place of public accommodation, the entity may ask the trainer for documentation of the training school. It may not ask a handler with a disability for documentation.
Read more: Service Animal In Training Laws by State
18. 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 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 not a 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.
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. 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, harness, or carry an ID.
Legitimate service dog registration does not exist. There are websites selling registration papers online, but these are not recognized by either the ADA or Department of Justice.
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 other 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
Service Dog Laws Wisconsin – Reference:
- 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
- Federal ADA Service Dog Laws – General Guide & FAQ
- Federal ADA Workplace Accommodation Guide
- Service Animal In Training Laws By U.S. State