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Service Animals

service dog staring upService animals can make everyday tasks much easier for people with disabilities. Service animals can guide, inform their handler of important noises, fetch dropped items, sense changing blood sugar levels, and provide significant comfort and emotional support. While the law considers service animals tools, like hearing aids or wheelchairs, many people are misinformed and see service animals as pets. The law regulating service animals can be quite confusing. Disability Rights Wisconsin is here to help educate those with service animals on their rights.

Your Rights

Under state and federal statutes and regulations, persons with disabilities are allowed the use of service animals in many locations where animals are otherwise prohibited.  Both federal and state law regulate service animals.

Federal Law

Service animal rights differ between places of public accommodation and housing. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers places of public accommodation. The ADA requires businesses, state and local government agencies, non-profit organizations and other entities that provide services to the public to make reasonable modifications in their policies, rules, and practices for those with service animals. Places of worship are not subject to the ADA.

Places of Public Accommodation (under the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA])

The ADA has a specific definition of service animal. A service animal is a dog or miniature horse that has been trained to do a specific task in order to benefit a person with a disability. Emotional support animals are explicitly not covered under the ADA. Service animals do not need to be professionally trained; however, they must be trained to complete a specific task to benefit an individual with a disability. Further, service animals must be in the control of their handler at all times. There are additional regulations for miniature horses as service animals.

Entities covered by the ADA are only able to ask two question to those with service animals. They may ask if the service animal is required because of a disability, and what tasks the animal is trained to do. The entities may only ask these questions if the answers are not readily apparent. This means that if the entity knows or is able to tell what disability a person has, and the task the service animal provides, it is not allowed to ask the above questions. Entities covered by the ADA may not ask for documentation of a disability or the need for a service animal and may not charge an additional fee for service animals. Entities may only charge if a service animal damages the property, and if the entity customarily charges non-disabled customers for damages as well.

There are some instances in which an entity covered by the ADA may deny access to service animals. 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, or if the service animal poses a direct threat to human health and safety, the service animal may be denied entry. The entity needs to look at the specific service animal to determine if it poses a threat to health or safety; stereotypes based off breed or past experience are not sufficient to deny entry. The entity must still allow the person with a disability to enter without their service animal. Service animals may go wherever the general public is allowed.

Housing (under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973)

The right to keep a service animal in a dwelling is controlled by the Fair Housing Act and by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These acts 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. Emotional support animals and all types of animals are included. Those looking to live with their service animal should file a request for a reasonable accommodation with their housing provider. It is always a good idea to get a request for a reasonable accommodation in writing.

Reasonable accommodations usually modify existing rules, policies, and practices in order to allow people with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy the comfort of their dwelling. It is unlawful for housing providers to refuse a reasonable accommodation for someone with a disability if they meet two requirements: (1) an individual seeking to live with a service animal has a disability; and (2) there is a disability-related need for the service animal. Housing providers may only ask for documentation of a disability or a disability-related need for a service animal if it is not apparent to the housing provider. Housing providers must keep all documentation confidential.

There are a few exceptions to granting reasonable accommodations. If granting a reasonable accommodation would impose an undue financial or administrative burden that would fundamentally change the services offered by the housing provider, then the housing provider may refuse the reasonable accommodation. 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. Further, 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.

Housing providers are not able to 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

State Law

Wisconsin State law similarly covers service animals in public accommodation and housing.

Public Accommodations

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.

Service animal trainers may bring the service animals into places of public accommodation and amusement if the service animal is wearing a harness or special cape. Places of public accommodation may 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.

The place of public accommodation must make modification to its policies or practices that would allow for people with disabilities to be accompanied by a service animal. Further, these places may not charge a higher price because of a service animal.

Places of public accommodation may refuse access to those with service animals if allowing a modification would fundamentally change the services of the public accommodation or if allowing a service animal would jeopardize the health and safety of others. The ADA (federal law) has priority over service animals in places of public accommodation in most instances.

Housing

Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r)(bg) and Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r)(br) provide the law for service animals and housing. Under these laws, it is considered discrimination to refuse to rent housing, cause the eviction, harass, or require additional compensation of a person with a disability because they have a service animal. If someone with a disability wants their service animal to live with them, the housing provider may ask for documentation of the disability and the need for the service animal, unless the disability is readily apparent or known.

A housing provider may refuse to allow a service animal to live with a person with disabilities if the person is not actually disabled, there is no need for the service animal, there was no documentation produced, allowing the service animal would cause an undue financial burden, the service animal in question poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others, or because the service animal would cause significant physical damage to the property. These laws apply to both service animals and emotional support animals. The Fair Housing Act (federal law) has priority over service animals in housing in most instances.

Prohibiting Harassment of Service Animals

A unique feature of Wisconsin law concerning service animals is Wis. Stat. 951.079, which prohibits harassment of service animals. Specifically, no one may recklessly or intentionally harass, interfere with, injure, take possession of, or cause the death of a service animal. This statute is found in Wisconsin’s criminal code and prosecutors may file charges if this law has been violated. This law is unique because there is not a federal regulation that is comparable, meaning Wisconsin is able to protect service animals in a way that federal law is not.

Summary of State and Federal Laws

Area of Law Federal Law State of Wisconsin Law
Places of Public Accommodation
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Service animals limited to dogs and miniature horses trained to perform specific tasks
  • Emotional support animals are not included
  • Entities may only ask if the service animal is needed for a disability and if the animal has been trained to perform a specific task
  • Entities may not ask for documentation
  • Entities may not charge an additional fee
  • Wis. Stat. 106.52(1)(fm)
  • Service animals refer to any animal that has been trained to perform specific tasks to benefit an individual with a disability
  • Service animals in training are covered by this law
  • Entities may not ask for documentation from handlers with disabilities
  • Entities may ask for documentation if the animal is in training and is accompanied by a trainer
  • Entities may not charge an additional fee
Housing
  • Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Service animals include all animals and emotional support animals who are trained to perform a task
  • Housing providers may only ask for documentation of a disability and a related need for an animal if the information is not apparent or known
  • Housing providers must grant reasonable accommodation requests for people with disabilities
  • Service animals are not excluded in “no pet” policies
  • Providers are not allowed to charge additional security deposits or rent for service animals
  • Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r)(bg) and Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r)(br)
  • Both service animals and emotional support animals covered under these laws
  • Housing providers may only ask for documentation of a disability and a related need for an animal if the information is not apparent or known
  • Housing providers must grant reasonable accommodation requests for people with disabilities
  • Service animals cannot be excluded because of “not pet” policies
  • Providers may not charge additional rent or security deposits for service animals
  • Additional conditions in which a reasonable accommodation request for service animals may be denied
Harassment of Service Animals
  • N/A
  • Wis. Stat. 951.079
  • Criminal Code of Wisconsin
  • Prohibits intentional or reckless harassment, injury, death, etc. of service animals

Strategies

Disability Rights Wisconsin provides counseling on how to file a complaint and how to make yourself heard if your rights as an owner of a service animal are infringed. Below you will find resources to learn your rights as a service animal owner.

Referrals

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