United States: Campus Companions: How To Handle Requests For Service And Assistance Animals

Last Updated: September 12 2017
Article by May Mon Post

School officials often receive requests from students with disabilities to bring "service animals" and "assistance animals" on campus as an accommodation. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fair Housing Act (FHA), virtually all institutions are required to accommodate students with disabilities by allowing service animals nearly everywhere on campus, including public spaces, academic buildings, dwelling units, and other facilities. By contrast, under these federal laws, institutions are only required to allow assistance animals in campus dwelling units and in the employment context (although state or local laws may impose additional requirements).

Below are some practice pointers for education officials upon receipt of a student's request to bring an animal to campus.

  1. Recognize The Difference Between "Service Animals" And "Assistance Animals"
    Under Title III of the ADA, a service animal is "any dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including any physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability." Common examples of service animals include seeing-eye dogs trained to guide the blind, dogs trained to detect the onset of an epileptic seizure (and then help the person remain safe during the seizure), and dogs trained to remind a person with depression to take medication.

    On the other hand, an assistance animal – sometimes known as an "emotional support animal" – can be a cat, dog, or other type of companion animal. It does not need to be trained to perform a service; instead, the emotional or physical benefits the animal brings qualify it to be an assistance animal. Examples might include a cat that can detect and alert its companion of oncoming seizures, a dog that alleviates a person's depression or anxiety, a cat that reduces a person's stress-induced pain, and a bird that alerts its hard-of-hearing companion when someone rings the doorbell.
  2. Federal And State Laws Impose Accommodation Obligations
    At the federal level, the ADA, Section 504, and the FHA all prohibit discrimination based on disability. Title II of the ADA, for example, applies to public educational institutions, while Title III applies to private entities that are "places of public accommodation," including private K-12, undergraduate and postgraduate schools, and other places of education. Section 504 applies to any institution receiving federal financial assistance, which covers virtually all public and private colleges and universities. The FHA pertains to residential "dwellings," a term that likely encompasses campus housing such as residence halls and dormitories (although courts have not explicitly settled the matter).

    Each of these statutes imposes various obligations upon educational institutions to accommodate students' service or assistance animals. In addition, many states and localities have adopted further anti-discrimination statutes requiring accommodation of a broad range of service and assistance animals.
  3. Consider The Interactive Process
    Each federal statute has unique circumstances under which it mandates institutions to consider and engage in an interactive process with students. The ADA, for example, requires that any public entity or place of public accommodation "modify its policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability." Generally, when a student requests permission to bring a service animal into the classroom as an auxiliary aid because of a disability, you may not make inquiries if it is readily apparent the animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. For example, if a visually impaired student requests to bring a seeing-eye dog into the classroom, you may not make inquiries about the dog.

    In situations where it is not obvious the dog is a service animal, however, you may ask two specific questions: (1) whether the dog is required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task the dog has been trained to perform. Therefore, if a student requests to use a service dog to alert him when his blood sugar reaches dangerous levels, you are not allowed to request documentation for the animal (such as proof that the dog has been trained), require that the dog demonstrate its task, inquire about the nature of the student's disability, or require medical documentation.

    Under Section 504, when a student requests permission to bring a service animal into the classroom as an auxiliary aid, at least where the disability and the function of the service animal are not obvious, you may initiate the Section 504 interactive process. This permits you to ask the student for documentation to confirm the handicap, the need for the services requested, documentation of the dog's training, and how you can best accommodate the student and the dog.

    Comparatively, the FHA regulations permit a much broader scope of animals in residential dwellings, including assistance animals. The statute further permits you to verify the existence of the disability and the need for the accommodation by requiring the student to provide documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal serves to alleviate at least one of the identified symptoms or effects of the existing disability.

    The result is a confusing interplay of the ADA, Section 504, and the FHA, often leaving institutions with little guidance. Because one size does not fit all when it comes to inquiries and accommodations, you should engage in an interactive process with students on a case-by-case basis, with the understanding that the extent of permissible inquiries may, and often does, vary in each situation. 
  4. Train Disability Services And Residence Hall Staff
    Your goal is to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities while recognizing the health, safety, and educational goals of others in the campus community. Therefore, it is imperative that the person making inquiries is well-versed in the applicable laws and knows to not question beyond what is permitted.

    Similarly, there is sometimes a stigma or skepticism associated with students whose disabilities are not apparent, or with animals not fitting the mold of the traditional seeing-eye dog. Thus, it is imperative that faculty and staff understand the antidiscrimination laws and your institution's policies and legal obligations regarding service and assistance animals.
  5. Remember That Federal Laws Provide A Floor, Not A Ceiling
    Even though the ADA does not require you to accommodate a student's or parent's request to bring assistance animals onto campus, you may still wish to permit them because research has not shown that animals are "bad" for everyone. In fact, they can potentially provide therapeutic and comforting feelings to those with emotional or psychiatric disabilities. Some K-12 institutions bring comfort dogs to campus during high stress periods such as during final exams or when the community has experienced trauma. Remember that federal laws provide a floor, not a ceiling; you are free to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of accommodating student requests for assistance animals.
  6. Consult A Professional
    Finally, your legal obligations vary significantly depending on the student's disability, the type of animal, the work or task the animal performs, whether the student is employed by your institution, where on campus the student wishes to bring the animal, whether you are applying ADA, Section 504, or FHA standards, or whether state or local laws impose additional obligations. Therefore, it is advisable to consult a legal professional who is well-versed in these areas before making any final decisions.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

May Mon Post
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.