Service Animals - do you know the law?

Jan 25

You may have seen the headlines in the past, Disabled Veteran Booted from Restaurant over Service Dog or Military Vet with Service Dog Kicked Out of Restaurant. Unfortunately, these stories tend to get picked up by social media and bloggers and can cause serious problems for the business.

Generally, these incidences are a result of a misunderstanding and a lack of awareness on what exactly the law allows with regards to service animals in restaurants.

As a reminder, in 2013 the Texas Legislature amended the Human Resources Code to more closely align Texas law with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to guarantee the right of a person who is blind or has other disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder, to be accompanied by a trained service animal in all public places. In Texas, the terms “assistance animal” and “service animal” mean “a canine that is specially trained or equipped to help a person with a disability.”

While most restaurant employees know that service dogs are allowed to accompany their owners in the public areas of restaurants, if a customer with no apparent disability enters a restaurant with a service dog, questions and confusion can arise. Many individuals have disabilities that are not visible, for example, wounded vets suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but they do require a service animal. How would your employees react in this situation?

According to Texas law and the ADA, your employees may only ask two questions:

1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and

2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform.

They cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Texas Health and Human Services Commission outlined the rights and responsibilities of people using service animals. The US Justice Department has ADA Guidelines Relating to Service Animals and FAQs about service animals in places of business.

Educating your employees on the proper treatment of individuals with service dogs is critical and should be part of your overall customer service training.  Not only are there penalties under the ADA and Texas law, there is the potential immediate negative impact on your customer and subsequent negative publicity.


I had a customer say their animal was a service dog. It was a small dog and they had it sit on their lap and they were feeding the dog from the table. This didn't seem right and all other customers looked at them. I didn't say anything, but is that appropriate? What rights do I as a restaurant owner have? It really make everyone very uncomfortable.

Thank you for your inquiry. The Texas Restaurant Association was instrumental in passing a service dog law in 2013 which protects business owners and those in need of service animals. According to Texas law and the ADA, your employees may only ask two questions: 1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and 2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform. You have the right to contact your local law enforcement office or the health department if you believe that someone is fraudulently using or taking advantage of the service dog law. A comfort dog is not a service dog under Texas or ADA law. You do not have to allow a service dog to roam throughout your restaurant nor are you required to allow the animal to eat from the table. Those are health and safety issues that your local health department would not approve of.

Can an animal that is not a service animal ( a bird or cat for example) and is kept in a carrier , be permitted in a restaurant?

According to our general counsel, that is up to the restaurant. There is no legal requirement that an animal that is not a service animal be permitted in the restaurant.

The only type of animal that a restaurant or any other place of public accommodation must permit entry is for a service animal. A restaurant may have it own policy on entry for any other animal which is not trained to perform a service and actually does perform that service. Restaurants have particular issues concerning the health department, food safety and cleanliness that must be taken into account prior to allowing non-service animals to enter a restaurant.

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