Colorado Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Colorado law and the ADA provide the right to have a service animal in housing, public accommodations, and employment.

By , J.D.
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Under Colorado's laws on the civil rights of people with disabilities as well as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all "public accommodations," such as hotels, restaurants, stores, museums, and more. These laws also require those who operate transportation services to allow service animals.

Colorado's law on service animals is very similar to the ADA's rules on service animals. Both sets of law offer broad protections to people with physical, mental, sensory, intellectual, and psychiatric disabilities who use service animals to assist them. Learn below which animals qualify as service animals, which public accommodations must allow them, and rules you may need to follow with your service animal.

What Is a Service Animal Under Colorado Law?

The ADA and Colorado law define a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability. (In some circumstances, a miniature horse who is individually trained also qualifies as a service animal.) The tasks or work the animal does must be directly related to the person's disability.

For example, someone with diabetes might use a service dog to alert them to dangerously high or low blood sugar levels. A person who has a visual impairment might use a guide dog for assistance with navigation. A hearing dog can signal someone who is deaf when an alarm, doorbell, or other important noise sounds. A psychiatric service dog can alert the handler to the need to take medication, can interrupt self-destructive behavior, can perform safety checks for a handler with PTSD, or can provide calming pressure to someone with an anxiety disorder. Service animals can do a variety of other tasks too, from alerting someone to potentially deadly allergens to warning of an impending seizure, pulling a wheelchair, pushing elevator buttons, and providing physical support to someone who needs help with balance.

Neither the ADA nor Colorado's service animal law includes pets or what are often referred to as "emotional support animals": animals that provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities or conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. Under the ADA and Colorado law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals.

Which Public Accommodations Must Allow Service Animals in Colorado?

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

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

Rules for Your Service Animal

Under the ADA, a public accommodation may not ask you questions about your disability or demand to see certification or other proof of your animal's training or status. If it is not apparent what your service animal does, the establishment may ask you only whether it is a service animal, and what tasks it performs for you.

You can't be charged a special admission fee or be required to pay any other extra cost to have your service animal with you. However, you may have to pay for any damage your animal causes.

Under the ADA, your service animal can be excluded from a public accommodation 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 may also be excluded if it is not housebroken or out of control (and you cannot or won't take steps to control it).

Service Animals in Housing

Colorado and federal law prohibit discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities, and your landlord may not charge you extra for having a service animal (although you may have to pay for damage your animal causes). If your lease or rental agreement includes a "no pets" provision, it does not apply to your service animal.

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, housing facilities must allow service dogs and emotional support animals, if necessary for a person 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 you must have a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, the animal must work, perform tasks or services, or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability in order to qualify. (For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development's guidance on service animals.)

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