What is a service animal?
Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability.
Emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals are not considered service animals under the ADA because these terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
An individual with a disability who uses a service animal (as defined by the Americans with Disabilties Act) is not required to register the animal with university authorities prior to bringing the animal on campus. However, students are strongly encouraged to register with the Accessible Education Center so that the presence of the animal on campus is documented as part of an approved accommodation. Frequently students find it useful to have the presence of the service animal noted in their notification letter to faculty to help facilitate understanding. Only trained service animals, not emotional support pets, are typically allowed in campus buildings.
Students with diagnosed mental health concerns that inhibit full use and enjoyment of one's living space sometimes require an assistance animal. If there are prohibitions against having animals in housing, a student will need to obtain documentation of a mental health-related disability in order to petition for reasonable accommodations. There are legal requirements pertaining to this documentation that must be addressed by your therapist in such a letter, so we are only able to provide such a letter if we have had an ongoing therapeutic relationship with a student. Please note that Assistance Animals are distinct from Service Animals and have different requirements. For more information about the distinction between Assistance and Service animals, check out Disability Rights Oregon.
Many people with disabilities use a service animal in order to fully participate in everyday life. Dogs can be trained to perform many important tasks to assist people with disabilities, such as providing stability for a person who has difficulty walking, picking up items for a person who uses a wheelchair, preventing a child with autism from wandering away, or alerting a person who has hearing loss when someone is approaching from behind.
The Department of Justice continues to receive many questions about how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to service animals. The ADA requires State and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations (covered entities) that provide goods or services to the public to make "reasonable modifications" in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. The service animal rules fall under this general principle. Accordingly, entities that have a "no pets" policy generally must modify the policy to allow service animals into their facilities. This publication provides guidance on the ADA's service animal provisions and should be read in conjunction with the publication ADA Revised Requirements: Service Animals.