Are Miniature Horses Service Animals?

Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP

Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP

We have received an increasing number of questions about service animals — and most recently — an inquiry about miniature horses. While the statutory definition of "service animal" under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which covers access to public accommodations, is limited to "dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities," the federal guidance has expanded this definition to include — yes — miniature horses. Why miniature horses? Apparently, they are a good alternative for some disabled people whose allergies preclude them from using dogs.

Generally speaking, the public accommodation provisions of the ADA require that these two types of service animals must be permitted to accompany their owner with a disability in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go. This guidance does not apply to Title I of the ADA, which governs employment discrimination and, at least as of now, affords employees even broader rights with regard to service animals than does Title III.

Here are some of the key takeaways for places of public accommodations.

Where Can They Go?

Under Title III, service animals are generally permitted to accompany individuals with disabilities in all public areas of the facility, including hospitals, clinics, and cafeterias. However, exceptions may apply in areas where the animal’s presence could compromise a sterile environment, such as operating rooms.

How Can a Business Verify That the Miniature Horse Is a Legitimate Service Animal?

The questions that staff can ask are very limited. When it is not obvious what service an animal is providing, staff can ask two questions:

1. Is this animal (dog or miniature horse) a service animal required because of a disability?

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

Unequivocally, businesses cannot ask about the owner’s disability or require any documentation.

What if the Miniature Horse is Causing a Ruckus?

Service animals are expected to be well-behaved, housebroken, and under their owner’s control at all times. This control most commonly happens through harnesses, leashes, or tethers. However, exceptions exist for individuals whose disabilities prevent the use of these devices. If the service animal is out of control or not housebroken, then it may be asked to leave. The handler, however, must still be offered the goods/services without the service animal present.

What About My Pet Cat?

Miniature horses are one thing, but we also get questions regarding pets.

Cats, guinea pigs, lizards, and other pets cannot qualify as a service animal. These pets, however, can qualify as an emotional support animal. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not expected to perform specific tasks related to their owner’s condition. In that same vein, emotional support animals are not afforded the same protections as service animals under Title III and may be refused entrance to public accommodations.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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