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Student and Visitor Use of Service and Assistance Animals

Alyssa Keehan, Esq.
May 2021
Rules for evaluating requests to allow animals on campus

Your K-12 school, college, or university must respond differently to a student or visitor who wants to bring a “service animal” to campus than it would for a student or visitor bringing an “assistance animal.” The terms have different definitions.

The Department of Justice (DoJ), which interprets sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that apply to public places, provides guidance about what institutions can ask students and visitors with disabilities about service animals.

According to the ADA:

  • Definition of service animal: A service animal is a dog or miniature horse that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These include tasks such as guiding a blind person, recognizing seizures, or retrieving items.
  • Responding to requests for use: Limited inquiries are allowed only when it is not obvious what service the animal provides. Institutions may ask only two questions: Is the service animal required because of a disability; and What work or task has the animal been trained to perform? Institutions cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the animal, or ask that the animal demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), meanwhile, takes the position that the Fair Housing Act (FHA) applies to school, college, and university living areas. The FHA allows a far broader range of animals for students with disabilities than the ADA.

According to the FHA:

  • Definition of assistance animal: An assistance animal is any kind of animal that alleviates a disability, including those that solely provide emotional support. While the FHA does not contain a specific definition of assistance animal, any type, breed, or size of animal may be required as an accommodation. The animal does not need to be trained to perform a task.
  • Responding to requests for use: HUD has retained the interactive process typically used to accommodate students with disabilities — the student discloses the disability, the institution verifies it, and together they find reasonable accommodations. Under the FHA, institutions can require proof of a disability and documentation that an assistance animal relieves symptoms of that disability.

Take These Actions Involving Service, Assistance Animals

To ensure your institution complies with requirements involving assistance and service animals, seek legal advice and do the following:

  • Review policies involving students and visitors with disabilities. Ensure they comply with ADA rules regarding service animals.
  • Avoid copying other institutions’ policies and procedures. Their practices may be out of date or incorrect.
  • Revise policies to distinguish between “service” and “assistance” animals.
  • Engage in the interactive process on assistance animal requests. Ensure requesters have disabilities alleviated by assistance animals.
  • Do not require students to prove the assistance animal is certified or has received specialized training.
  • Comply with HUD rules on assistance animals unless directed otherwise by legal counsel. Note that this is only required for institutions with student housing.
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