How to handle service animals at hotels
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.


  • watts1975 August 5, 2014 6:58 AM

    Are therapy dogs classified as a "Service Dog"? We have seen a recent influx of travelers and they carry a tag that said "Certified Therapy Dog".

  • Samanthaworgull August 5, 2014 7:08 AM

    Thank you for your comment, watts1975. That is a great question. Under the definition of a service animal, Marian Vessels did point out that 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. I would refer to the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center for a definitive answer. Samantha Worgull, Hotel News Now

  • OHL August 5, 2014 7:43 AM

    Is there an appropriate way to handle a situation where the dog is a service dog but not apparently working. There was a guest who had to carry the dog who was on chemo and had arthritis in the back legs, but was trained; sounded like he was retired. It seemed more of a rescue situation for a dog that had been in service.

  • NicoleInn August 5, 2014 8:01 AM

    I am of the understanding that hotels are not required to accept animals that provide "comfort, well-being or emotional support" because it does not constitute work or a task.

  • Sunset Lodging August 6, 2014 11:25 AM

    Are Service Dogs/Horses in training also exempt from normal pet fees

  • Tina August 6, 2014 3:29 PM

    A business must also be aware of their state & local laws regarding the ADA and Service Animals. Just because the Federal Laws specifically limit a service animal to a dog and miniature horses, does not mean that a hotel business has to accept only those. For states that have not updated their laws to reflect or match that of the Federal ones, such as a Nevada, the more encompassing one will be enforced. It creates confusion not only for the business owner, but the guest as well who is travelling. Both parties need to be aware of any differences.

  • MJR August 7, 2014 2:41 AM

    I'm wondering why you would challenge someone that has a service animal for "comfort, well-being or emotional support"? Perhaps the time to be concerned is when/if the animal damages your property. Many of our veterans now have service animals to assist with PTSD. I wish there was more compassion in this industry. This is a great place to start!

  • Nancy Horton August 7, 2014 3:31 AM

    Regarding “therapy” animals: terminology can be confusing. Some terms are defined in laws such as the ADA (which has a specific definition for a “service animal”). There are other laws on the federal, state, and local level that define animals with a variety of terms and apply in a variety of situations, some of which can overlap (for example, most hotels are covered, at least, by the ADA and by state/local laws). Some terms may not be defined, but are used fairly consistently among people in certain fields (such as animal trainers or others). However, these terms are not necessarily used or understood consistently by the general public. Therapy animals are generally considered to be animals that are taken into settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, or schools to provide therapeutic benefits, such as comfort or socialization, to the people there – to anyone or everyone there. These animals are trained in basic obedience and they are socialized, but they are not service animals as defined by the ADA, because an “ADA service animal” is individually trained to perform very specific tasks for one particular, specific individual. A service animal typically is owned and handled by the individual it serves; the animal lives and stays with the person it serves, most if not all of the time. Again, however, people may not always use terms consistently, so it’s very important to ask just the right questions when clarity is needed.

  • Anonymous August 7, 2014 6:37 AM

    Cheaters give legitimate individuals who need a service animal a bad name. Many of our guests have come in without advising us they have a service animal and when they get caught by a manager who clearly sees an aggressive, barking dog and/or a dog repeatedly left alone in the room barking all day, they then claim "service dog." Those people should be fined but nobody wants to cross the line. I do.

  • SFM August 8, 2014 3:56 AM

    I was informed that PTSD is one that we must allow the service animal.

  • jenifer morgan August 13, 2014 11:47 AM

    We require documentation for service animals and require all animals stay on a certain floor, since we also have guests with pet allergies.

  • Jodie January 4, 2017 11:45 AM

    Can an owner leave their service animal unattended in a hotel room?

  • Diana May 20, 2017 6:06 PM

    I work for a hotel and I am just trying to find out the way to handle this issue. If it is an emotional support dog do we check for a collar or leash the same way you would see a vest on a service dog?

  • confused June 23, 2017 9:02 PM

    Does a Guest need to notify the Front Desk that they have a service dog at check in?
    Many times, we are not told at all and we are a Pet Free Motel.

  • Mylinda August 27, 2017 2:31 AM

    For those asking about dogs for people with PTSD, a service dog can be trained for those with PTSD. I am referring to a certified, ADA protected service dog. Also, service animals are not required to wear a vest and service animal vests and tags can be purchased by anyone on-line so they are not an indication that the animal is trained or certified.

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