Accommodating Service Animals

Posted on August 18, 2021


County of Marin
Disability Access Program
Accessibility Guidance Bulletin #10

Accommodating Service Animals

The County of Marin is committed to making reasonable modifications in policies, procedures, and practices to permit the use of service animals by persons with disabilities. Service animals play an important role in ensuring the independence of people with disabilities, and it is therefore our policy to welcome into County facilities and events service animals that have been individually trained to assist a person with a disability.

What is a Service Animal?

The 2010 U.S. Department of Justice regulations implementing Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act define “service animal” as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability”. This rule states that other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals. Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals. The rule also clarifies that individuals with mental disabilities who use service animals that are trained to perform a specific task are protected by the ADA. The rule permits the use of trained miniature horses as alternatives to dogs, subject to certain limitations. To allow flexibility in situations where using a horse would not be appropriate, the rule does not include miniature horses in the definition of “service animal”. In the rare event that use of a miniature horse is requested, please feel free to consult with the Disability Access Program.
Service animals come in all breeds and sizes, may be trained either by an organization or by an individual with a disability, and need not be certified or licensed. Service animals do not always have a harness, sign, or symbol indicating that they are service animals. Service animals are working animals, not pets.

Service animals assist people with disabilities in many different ways, such as:

  • Guiding people who are blind or have low vision and retrieving dropped objects for them;
  • Alerting people who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds and the presence of others;
  • Carrying and picking up items, opening doors, or flipping switches for people with disabilities who have limited use of hands or arms, limited use of their legs, or limited ability to bend or stoop;
  • Pulling wheelchairs;
  • Alerting people with disabilities to the onset of medical conditions such as seizures, protecting them and cushioning them if they fall, reviving them, and performing other tasks that reduce the risk of disability-related injury;
  • Doing work or performing tasks for persons with traumatic brain injury, intellectual disabilities, or psychiatric disabilities, such as reminding a person with depression to take medication or waking him up, alerting a person with anxiety to the onset of panic attacks, orienting people with schizophrenia to reality, and helping people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities to locate misplaced items, find places, or follow daily routines; and
  • Providing physical support and assisting people with physical disabilities with stability and balance.

Requirements Regarding Service Animals

Most of the time people with disabilities who use service animals may be easily identified without any need for questioning. If it is clear by looking, do not make an individual feel unwelcome by asking questions. However, if unsure whether an animal meets the definition of a service animal, it is the County of Marin’s policy to ask the individual only one question at the point when the individual seeks entry to the facility or event:

  • Is your service animal trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of disability?

If the individual says yes or otherwise explains that the animal is required because of a disability, the County will welcome the person and service animal into the facility or event. Once an individual with a service animal has answered this question, do not ask any further questions about his or her service animal. The County of Marin will not ask an individual any questions about his or her disability or ask an individual to show a license, certification, or special ID card as proof of their animal’s training.

People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be charged extra fees, isolated from other patrons, or treated less favorably than other patrons. You are not required to provide care or food for a service animal or provide a special location for it to relieve itself. Allergies and fear of animals are generally not considered to be valid reasons for denying access or refusing services to people with service animals.

If other patrons complain about the presence of a service animal, explain to them that federal law protects the right of the person to be accompanied by service animals in public places. The County of Marin will permit service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities to all areas of our facilities and events normally used by members of the public and will treat individuals with service animals with the same courtesy and respect that it affords to all of other members of the public who visit our facilities or events. Thus, the County of Marin will not interfere with the important work performed by a service animal by talking to, petting, or otherwise initiating contact with a service animal.

Manager Responsibilities

A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove a service animal from the premises unless: (1) the animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it (for example a dog barks repeatedly during an event) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. In the event that a particular service animal’s vicious behavior poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others, the County of Marin has the right to exclude that animal from our facilities or events at that time. Barking alone is not a direct threat.

Only County Managers, with the approval of their Department Director or Assistant Department Director, can make the decision to exclude a service animal because it poses a direct threat. We will not exclude a particular service animal based on past experiences with other animals, or based on fear that is not related to an individual service animal’s actual behavior. Each situation will be considered individually. In the event the County of Marin excludes a service animal because of a direct threat, the individual with a disability will still be welcome in our facilities and events when he or she is not accompanied by that particular service animal.

Please handle any inquiries or complaints about this policy in accordance with our usual procedures by referring the inquiry or complaint to the County of Marin Disability Access Program at (415) 473-4381 or via e-mail at disabilityaccess @ marincounty.org

For additional information, contact:
U.S. Department of Justice ADA Information Line: 800-514-0301

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