How to handle service animals at hotels
04 AUGUST 2014 6:32 AM
Panelists on a webinar hosted by the AH&LA discussed frequently asked questions regarding how to handle service animals at hotels.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Despite existing Department of Justice regulations on the definition of a service animal, many hoteliers and their guests still have questions about how to handle service animals at hotels.
Panelists on a webinar hosted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association titled “The Americans with Disabilities Act: Service animals at your hotel” discussed what is a service animal, where service animals can go, who is allowed to have a service animal and how to handle cleanup fees.
First, hoteliers are expected to comply with ADA Title lll regulations which require a public accommodation—which includes hotels—to modify policies, practices or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability, said Marian Vessels, director of the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center, one of 10 regional centers established to provide training, information and technical assistance on the ADA to businesses, consumers, schools, and state and local governments.
Establishing the definition of service animals is one of the first steps in figuring out how to approach them in a hotel and whether a hotel is compliant, Vessels said.
What is a service animal?
Service animals are not pets, Vessels said. Hotel pet policies do not apply to service animals.
A service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability, according to Vessels.
“Species other than dogs, wild or domestic, trained or untrained are not considered service animals under the ADA,” Vessels said. For example, cats, birds, monkeys, rats, pigs, snakes or other types of animals do not have to be permitted in hotels unless the hotel has a pet policy that would generally allow it, she said.
There is one exception: miniature horses.
“Miniature horses are great for people who need walking assistance or pulling people in wheelchairs,” Vessels said. “They also have a much longer lifecycle than a service dog.” Service dogs live for about 10 to 12 years. A miniature horse can live for up to 20 years, she said.
Where can service animals go?
“Guests with disabilities who use service animals can’t be isolated, restricted to certain guestrooms or barred from areas where other guests are allowed to go,” Vessels said.
Vessels said some hotels have designated sections where guests with service animals must stay, but that is not acceptable under the ADA.
There are some considerations, however, with miniature horses and where they can go, Vessels said.
For example, gift shops in a hotel might be small, she said, so that might not be a good fit for a miniature horse. Legitimate safety requirements are also a concern.
Hoteliers are not required to provide a relief area for service animals, said Nancy Horton, information specialist at the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center, but discussing relief areas nearby could be an opportunity for hoteliers.
“It is helpful if staff can provide information about any relief areas or nearby public areas where guests can take their animals,” Horton said. “It provides a nice interaction between staff and the guest.”
When it comes to where service animals can go, hotels and other businesses are not required to make a change to a policy that would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business, Horton said.
“For example, although service animals are allowed to go almost everywhere members of the public are allowed to go, it may be a fundamental alteration to allow a service dog or miniature horse to enter the water in a swimming pool,” she said. However, service animals are allowed in the pool area.
Who can have a service animal?
There are only two questions hotel staff can ask about dogs or miniature horses, when the answers are not obvious, according to Vessels:
- Is this animal needed because of a disability?
- What work or tasks has the animal been trained to do?
“You cannot ask for documents, certificates, proof or details about the individual’s disability or the animals’ training,” Vessels said. “It’s very important you train your staff on this. The biggest complaint we hear about is people being challenged.”
An individual who uses a service animal often doesn’t have visible disabilities, Vessels said, so hotel staff must tread carefully.
“Ninety percent of all people with disabilities have invisible disabilities, so you’re not going to be able to identify them,” she said.
Can hotels charge cleanup fees?
“Extra fees may not be imposed on guests with service animals, even if your property accepts pets and charges extra fees for them, because service animals are not pets,” Vessels said.
Hoteliers may impose a fee on individuals with service animals if their animals did cause actual damage, she said.
For example, if a service animal causes damage to furniture inside a guestroom or relieves itself in the room repeatedly, those would be situations where hoteliers could charge fees, Vessels said.