Service Animals in Public Spaces

Helping businesses understand working service animals
A person who is blind, petting their service dog

What Is a Service Animal?

Much more than just a dog

Animals helping people

While people have been using animals to support disability-related needs for a couple hundred years, it wasn’t until the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 that service animals were recognized by the law in the United States.[1]

What kinds of animals?

A service dog opens the door for a person who is using a wheelchair Before 2011 people used all kinds of animals to help them in their daily activities. For example, the weight of a cat’s body reduced anxiety, or a monkey picked up dropped objects.

This all changed in 2011. In 2011, the regulations for applying the ADA to state and local government (Title II) and businesses (Title III) were changed to limit the type of animal that could provide services. From that point on, only dogs can qualify as service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. The only exception is a miniature horse.

So, in a nutshell, a service animal is any dog that has been trained to perform tasks that assist their person (called a handler) with their disability-related need.

Wait, a miniature horse?

A young adult in a power chair smiles as a miniature horse approachesMany people are confused by the miniature horse exception. Let’s explore this. Miniature horses have many strengths as service animals. They are strong and can push and pull heavy objects. People with mobility issues can use them for balance, and people who are blind or who have low vision can use them for guidance.

Miniature horses are 71–100 pounds in weight and usually around the same size as a large dog, 24–34 inches in height.

If a miniature horse does not compromise legitimate safety requirements, you should allow it to enter. (To learn more about miniature horses as service animals, check out this Northeast ADA fact sheet about miniature horses.)


[1] (2019, April 13). History of service dogs.