Alabama Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Alabama law provides the right to have a service dog for physical or mental disabilities in public places and housing.

By , J.D. UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated 6/26/2023

Under Alabama's laws on the rights of people with disabilities and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if you're disabled, you have the right to bring your service animal to all public accommodations, including places like:

  • stores
  • businesses
  • motels
  • restaurants, and
  • theaters.

You can also bring your service animal into public buildings and spaces and onto public transportation and common carriers like buses, ferries, and so on. (Learn about flying with a service animal under federal transportation laws.)

Alabama law isn't as detailed as the ADA. But public accommodations in Alabama must comply with both state and federal laws. And your right to bring a service animal with you is protected by both laws. Keep reading to learn:

  • which animals qualify as service animals
  • which public accommodations must allow them, and
  • the rules you might need to follow with your service animal.

We'll also look at how Alabama's service animal laws treat emotional support animals (ESAs) and your rights under federal and state housing laws.

Service Animals Defined in Alabama

Under Alabama law and the ADA, a service animal is any dog individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. In addition, the ADA covers miniature horses that are individually trained.

To be covered under these laws, the tasks or work your service dog does must be directly related to your disability. Under these definitions, service dogs can include:

  • a guide dog (or "seeing eye" dog) that helps a visually impaired person navigate public transportation and city streets
  • a hearing dog that alerts someone with a hearing impairment to important sounds, like doorbells and alarms, or
  • a seizure alert dog that warns someone with epilepsy of the onset of a seizure.

Psychiatric service dogs are also included under state and federal law (in 2011, Alabama expanded its service dog law beyond physical disabilities). Psychiatric service animals assist those with mental disabilities in any or all of the following ways:

  • interrupting self-harming behavior
  • scanning spaces for intruders
  • responding to anxiety attacks with calming pressure, or
  • providing medication reminders.

Service animals can do various other tasks too—from alerting someone to potentially deadly allergens to tracking an autistic child who's wandered away.

Emotional Support Animals Under Alabama Law

Neither the ADA nor Alabama's service animal law covers emotional support animals (ESAs). Emotional support animals provide a sense of safety, companionship, or comfort to those with emotional or psychiatric disabilities or conditions. Unlike psychiatric service dogs, ESAs aren't individually trained to perform specific tasks for someone with a disability.

Although ESAs often have therapeutic benefits, they don't qualify as service animals under Alabama law or the ADA because they're not individually trained. And so, the owners of public accommodations aren't required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals.

Which Public Accommodations Must Allow Service Animals in Alabama

Both Alabama law and the ADA require all public accommodations to allow you to have your service animal with you. But each law defines public accommodation somewhat differently.

Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is very broad. It includes:

  • hotels and other lodging establishments
  • public transportation, including:
    • terminals
    • depots, and
    • stations
  • restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
  • sales or rental establishments
  • service establishments, like laundromats and repair shops
  • any place of public gathering, such as an auditorium or convention center
  • places of entertainment and exhibit, like theaters or sports stadiums
  • places of exercise or recreation, like gyms and golf courses
  • recreational facilities, such as zoos and parks
  • places where items are collected or displayed publicly, including libraries and museums
  • educational institutions, including public and private schools, and
  • social service centers, like:
    • senior centers
    • food banks, and
    • homeless shelters.

Alabama law defines public accommodations more generally to include the following:

  • all hotels and lodging places
  • all places of public accommodation, amusement, or resort, and
  • other places to which the general public is invited.

But remember, you're entitled to rely on whichever law offers the most protection.

Alabama Rules for Having Your Service Animal in Public

Under the ADA, a public accommodation can't ask you questions about your disability or demand to see certification or other proof of your animal's training or status. If what your service animal does isn't apparent, the establishment can ask you only two questions:

  • Is the animal a service animal?
  • What tasks does it perform for you?

Both Alabama law and the ADA prohibit public accommodations from charging a special admission fee or requiring you to pay any other extra cost to have your service animal with you. But you'll likely have to pay for any damage your animal causes.

Under the ADA, your service animal can be excluded from a public place if it poses a direct threat to health and safety. For example, if your dog is aggressively barking and snapping at other customers, the facility can kick the dog out. Your animal can also be excluded if it's not housebroken or it's out of control (and you can't or won't take steps to control it).

Alabama is among the states where falsely claiming your pet is a service animal is a crime (a class C misdemeanor). Learn more about the growing problem of service animal fraud.

Service Animals in Alabama Housing

It's against the law in Alabama to discriminate against anyone with a physical disability in leased or purchased housing accommodations. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities. But Alabama's law on service animals in housing applies only to guide dogs that assist those who are totally or partially blind.

The state law bars your landlord from charging you extra for having a guide dog (although you can expect to pay for any damage your animal causes). If your lease or rental agreement includes a "no pets" provision, it doesn't apply to your guide dog.

The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) offers you more protection. Under the FHA, housing facilities must allow "assistance animals," which includes both service dogs and emotional support animals, if having the animal is necessary for someone with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home.

To fall under this provision, you must have a disability and a disability-related need for the animal. So to qualify for protection under the FHA, your service animal or ESA must perform tasks or services or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability.

Under the FHA, service animals and emotional support animals aren't considered pets, and you can't be charged a pet deposit or higher rent or fees to have one. (For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development's guidance on assistance animals.)

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