Do Pennsylvania Laws Protect Service Dogs?

Service dogs have legislated protections in Pennsylvania: laws that impact their public accommodations and their treatment.

Pennsylvania businesses must permit service animals in any public area. Stores, restaurants, and similar establishments open to the public can’t deny service or accommodations to someone who has a service animal with them. The law that protects this public access for service animals supersedes any state or local health code.

Additionally, landlords cannot deny housing to a person with a disability who has a service animal — or emotional support animal — regardless of any no-pet policies the housing facility may have in place. Both service animals and emotional support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act.

Are Dogs the Only Service Animals?

In Pennsylvania, and throughout the country, of the laws that govern service animals, dogs are the only animals that can be certified as service animals. There are some limited circumstances in which miniature horses have been recognized as service animals.

Service Animal vs Emotional Support Animal

support dog sniffing a man in a swimming pool

While emotional support animals are often used as part of an individual’s therapy or well-being plan, they are not considered service animals under the American with Disabilities Act. Therefore, emotional support animals (also known as therapy animals) don’t have the same legislated protections as service animals, federally.

However, The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) does not make any distinction between “service animal” and “emotional support animal.” PHRA uses both “guide” and “support” to reference these animals. This adds complications to civil laws.

By federal law and the ADA, restaurants, and housing facility managers may ask the person if an animal is required due to a disability and ask what task the animal performs on that person’s behalf before allowing access. However, the PHRA does not include permissions for such questions, so businesses and housing facilities in Pennsylvania cannot legally refuse service to a person with an animal that might not perform tasks specific to the person’s disability, nor exclude animals other than dogs or miniature horses.

Does it mean you could bring an emotional support cat into a restaurant? Maybe. If you have questions concerning Pennsylvania service or therapy animals, contact our legal team to assess your civil rights.

Regulations Can Be Complicated

In 2018, Pennsylvania passed House Bill 2049, the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act, essentially created to prevent fraudulent claims for a service animal and/or an emotional support animal. It permits landlords to request documentation that proves the animal’s owner has a disability or a disability-related need. Anyone misrepresenting that need can be fined up to $1,000. HB 2049 also protects landlords from liability should someone be injured by a resident’s service or emotional support animal on the property.

The ADA permits service animals in schools. Additionally, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act allow a student to use a therapy animal at school if that student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 team decides the animal is necessary for the student to receive an appropriate education.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) requires airlines to allow service animals and emotional support animals to accompany their handlers on airplanes.

Our legal team can help you navigate the many laws concerning service animals, emotional support animals, distinctions between the two groups, and how these laws may impact you.

Service Animals Must Be Under Control

The ADA requires, among other stipulations, that all service animals be under the control of their handler. They need to be harnessed or leashed unless doing so interferes with the service animal’s ability to perform its tasks. If the service animal isn’t leashed or harnessed, the animal must be under the control of its handler through voice, signal, or other sufficient control.

What Happens if My Service Dog is Attacked?

If someone’s animal attacks your service dog, that animal’s owner could be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor, but only if that person knew (or should have known) his or her dog had a propensity to attack without being provoked and failed to restrain it. The fine can be up to $5,000 and may include veterinary costs and/or the cost of replacing the service dog. There could be a civil penalty of up to $15,000, in addition to veterinary costs, replacement of the service dog, and loss of income for the person due to his or her being unable to work without the aid of the service dog.

If your service dog has been bitten by a dog, our dog bite attorneys, led by Gabriella Hashem Farhat, can evaluate and advise. We offer guidance in Lancaster, Willow Street, York, and Ephrata.

What Happens if My Service Dog Attacks Someone?

The handler of the service dog is liable if that service dog bites or attacks someone or another animal.  Pennsylvania dog bite laws apply to service dogs as well as emotional support animals. There are variables that play into a dog bite claim or lawsuit, including any prior knowledge of your service dog showing aggressive behavior, proper licensing, and any safety accommodations that were in place at the time. The owner of a service dog that has bitten another dog or a human may be liable for certain damages.  

Do Service Dogs have to be Registered?

Service animals are subject to local dog licensing and registration requirements.  However, you do not have to register your dog specifically as a “service animal,” and the ADA protects anyone who is challenged regarding the legitimacy of their service animal’s role. To that end, service animals do not need to be registered or certified to qualify as service animals.