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ADA Service Dog Credentials: What Qualifies As A Service Animal


Does the ADA require service dog credentials?

When it comes to ADA service dog credentials, both landlords and tenants have a lot of questions. Plus, there are a lot of misconceptions about how to accommodate service dogs. As San Francisco landlord-tenant attorneys, people often ask us, “What qualifies as a service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act?” 

In this article, we focus on a precedent setting court decision that clears up the confusion.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating against people with a disability. 

Does self-training qualify for ADA service dog credentials?

After years of trauma, C.L. suffered from PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Her condition caused difficulty in her daily life. To help manage her symptoms, C.L. welcomed a Bichon-Poodle mix named Aspen to become her service dog. 

Because formal training can cost up to $15,000, C.L. trained Aspen herself. Aspen learned to perform certain tasks to help C.L. with her disability.

While receiving treatment at Del Amo Hospital, C.L. asked if she could bring Aspen as her service dog. Surprisingly, the hospital denied the request. The reason: Aspen did not qualify as a service dog because he was not formally trained and “certified.”  

As a result, C.L. filed a lawsuit against Del Amo Hospital for failing to follow federal and state laws that permit service dogs in public places of accommodation. Nevertheless, the district court ruled in favor of Del Amo Hospital. Aspen did not qualify as a service dog under the ADA because he was not “formally certified.” [C.L. v Del Amo Hospital, F.3d (March 30, 2021) 9th Circuit, 2021 WL 1183017]

This precedent setting case answers what qualifies for ADA service dog credentials.

In response, C.L. appealed the decision. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of C.L., overturning the District Court decision.

According to the court of appeal, the ADA prohibits requiring credentials for service dogs because: 

  • The Department of Justice does not list formal training requirements for service dogs. Owners are allowed to self-train service animals because other training may be unavailable or too costly.

Aspen did not need ADA training credentials to qualify as a service dog. The ADA has no such requirement.

Bottom line, don’t ask if a service dog has ADA credentials.

To sum up, the ADA does not require credentials for service dogs. Facilities cannot require owners to provide proof of service dog training as a condition for entry. In addition, ADA rules do not require service dogs to wear special vests or show credentials. 

The decision upholds national policy: people with disabilities benefit from service dogs. There are multiple methods for training dogs to perform tasks, especially when it comes to psychiatric disabilities.  

We discuss other housing discrimination issues here.

We make it our business to clarify California real estate law and optimize the landlord-tenant relationship. Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners has resolved landlord-tenant disputes and real estate issues for over 30 years. To schedule a consultation, please call 415-956-6488.

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