Your Rights to Accessing Public Spaces with a Psychiatric Service Dog
Written by: Loren Seldner
Time to read 6 min
Having a psychiatric service dog can be a life-changing experience for individuals with mental health conditions.
These highly trained animals provide vital support and assistance, enabling their handlers to navigate the challenges of everyday life. In the United States, laws have been put in place to ensure equal access for individuals with psychiatric service dogs to various public spaces. Under the ADA, in addition to dogs, miniature horses can also be trained as psychiatric service animals (PSAs/PSDs).
However, in this article, we will explore the rights granted to individuals with psychiatric service dogs in eight different public spaces, along with any exclusions that may apply.
At the end of the article, we’ll also explain what questions employees may ask you in order to establish your right to use their premises with a PSD.
Access to Workplaces
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides protection to individuals with psychiatric service dogs in the workplace. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to ensure equal access for employees with disabilities, including those with psychiatric service dogs. This includes allowing the presence of the service dog in the workplace, as long as it does not pose an undue hardship.
Possible exclusions: in certain cases, if the presence of the service dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, or if it fundamentally alters the nature of the job, an employer may deny access.
Access to Hotels & Motels
Under the ADA, hotels and motels are considered places of public accommodation. Individuals with psychiatric service dogs have the right to stay in these establishments with their service animals. Hotel and motel staff cannot discriminate against individuals with psychiatric service dogs and must provide reasonable accommodations for their stay.
Possible exclusions: if the service dog causes damage to the property or poses a direct threat to the safety of others, the establishment may exclude them. In addition, if the psychiatric service dog causes damage to property, the owner must cover the costs of this.
In addition, the PSD must be under the owner’s control at all times. So it cannot be left alone in the guest room.
Individuals with psychiatric service dogs have the right to enter and dine in restaurants with their service animals. Restaurants are considered places of public accommodation under the ADA. You cannot be isolated from other patrons on the grounds that you are accompanied by a PSD. However, it's important for the service dog to be well-behaved and under control at all times, so it’s essential to ensure they are trained to obey your commands such as ‘sit’ and ‘stay’, even in crowded environments with multiple distractions.
Possible exclusions: The ADA does not give the right for a PSA to sit on a chair and eat from the table! Additionally, if the service dog behaves aggressively or poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, restaurant staff may ask the individual to remove the dog from the premises.
Access to Rideshares and Taxis
In most cases, individuals with psychiatric service dogs have the right to use rideshare services and taxis with their service animals. According to the ADA, drivers cannot refuse service solely based on the presence of a PSD. However, we recommend that you inform the driver in advance about the presence of the service dog.
Possible exclusion: If the service dog poses a direct threat to the safety or health of the driver, or if the dog's size prevents it from safely fitting in the vehicle, the driver may refuse service.
Access to Grocery Stores
Individuals with psychiatric service dogs are allowed to bring their dogs into grocery stores. Service dogs can assist their handlers with various tasks such as retrieving items, maintaining calmness, or creating space during crowded situations. However, it is important for the service dog to be well-behaved and under control. The AKC’s Canine Good Citizenship test is a useful guide to the type of commands a PSD should be able to respond to.
Possible Exclusions: Service dogs can not normally ride in shopping carts: they must walk or be carried. If the service dog behaves aggressively or disruptively, grocery store staff may request that the dog be removed from the premises. In addition, the owner is responsible for any damage their PSA may cause
Access to Hospitals
Psychiatric service dogs (PSAs) are generally allowed in hospitals, as long as they comply with infection control protocols and do not disrupt the functioning of the facility. Well-trained service dogs can provide invaluable support to individuals receiving medical care or undergoing treatment for mental health conditions.
Possible Exclusions: in some cases, particularly in sterile areas such as operating rooms or intensive care units, access may be restricted for hygiene or safety reasons.
Access to Places of Worship
Many places of worship are open to individuals with psychiatric service dogs. However, we recommend that you check with the specific place of worship in advance, as some religious institutions may have their own policies regarding service animals.
Possible exclusion: In some cases, religious institutions may restrict access to service dogs due to religious or cultural practices.
Access to Buses and Trains
Individuals with psychiatric service dogs have the right to travel on buses and trains with their service animals. Public transportation providers must allow the presence of service dogs, as long as they are under control and do not pose a threat to other passengers.
Possible exclusion: if the service dog behaves aggressively or disruptively, the transportation provider may ask the individual to remove the dog.
Access to Classrooms
Service dogs are allowed to accompany minor, disabled handlers in the classroom. Schools are not permitted to treat children with disabilities differently or deny the service dog access on school grounds.
This rule applies even when the student has a human aide to assist them while on campus.
What Can Employees Ask About My PSD?
In order to determine whether you have the right, under the ADA to enter and use a public space with your dog, you may be asked two questions:
Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
You cannot be asked:
To explain the nature of your disability
To show medical documentation
That your dog demonstrates its ability to perform a work task
To produce a special identification card or training documentation for the PSD. However, showing a therapist certified letter confirming that your pet is a PSD and required to support your condition can smooth the process
Psychiatric Service Dogs Access Rights Summary
You and your PSD have legal rights.
The ADA provides protection against discrimination and ensures reasonable accommodations. However, it's important to remember that these rights may be subject to certain exclusions, primarily related to safety concerns or specific religious practices.
It is always advisable to be aware of the relevant laws and regulations to ensure a smooth and inclusive experience for individuals with psychiatric service dogs in public spaces.
Finally, ensuring your PSA is correctly trained and well-behaved at all times will ensure you are never excluded from accessing public spaces on the grounds of your dog’s behavior. We highly recommend that you train your dog to the standards required by the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test to ensure that you and your pet will always be welcome.
Or are you considering registering your pet as a psychiatric service animal, and obtaining legally valid letters from a certified therapist to use to secure your rights under the ADA? At Free My Paws we can make the process quick, secure, and surprisingly cost-effective.
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