Colorado Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Colorado law and the ADA protect your right to have a service animal in public accommodations and housing. Learn when your right to an emotional support animal is also protected.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

In Colorado, both state civil rights laws and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities can bring their service animals to all public places and on all forms of public transportation.
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 disabilities who use service animals, including those with impairments that are:

    • physical
    • mental
    • sensory
    • intellectual, or
    • psychiatric.

    Learn below which animals qualify as service animals in Colorado, which public accommodations must allow them, and the rules you might 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's individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. (In some circumstances, an individually trained miniature horse can also qualify as a service animal.)

    To qualify under this definition, the tasks or work your animal does must be directly related to your disability. For example:

    • If you have diabetes, you might use a service dog to alert you if your blood sugar level becomes dangerously high or low.
    • If you have a visual impairment, you might use a guide dog to help you navigate in public spaces.
    • If you're deaf, you might have a hearing dog to signal you when an alarm, doorbell, or other important noise sounds (like a car horn).

    Not all disabilities are physical or obvious to a casual observer. For instance, a psychiatric service dog can perform different tasks for people with different psychiatric disabilities, such as:

    • alerting the handler to the need to take medication
    • performing safety checks for a handler with PTSD
    • interrupting self-destructive behavior, or
    • providing calming pressure to someone with an anxiety disorder.

    Service animals can do a variety of other tasks too. You might have a service dog that does one or more of the following tasks:

    • alerting you to potentially deadly allergens
    • warning you of an impending seizure
    • pulling your wheelchair
    • pushing elevator buttons or picking up dropped items, or
    • providing physical support when you need help with balance.

    Does Colorado Law Cover Emotional Support Animals?

    Emotional support animals 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 aren't covered by the ADA and Colorado's public accommodations law.

    Remember, to qualify as a service animal under these laws, your animal must be a dog (or miniature horse) that's individually trained to perform specific tasks for you. Because ESAs aren't individually trained to assist their owners, they aren't considered service animals under the ADA or Colorado law. So, owners of public accommodations aren't required to allow you to have your emotional support animal.

    What's a Public Accommodation Under the ADA and Colorado Law?

    Both the ADA and Colorado law define public accommodations broadly. So, the list of places that must comply with federal and state service animal laws includes all of the following:

    • hotels and other lodging establishments
    • public transportation and terminals, depots, and stations
    • restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
    • stores and dealerships (including sales or rental establishments)
    • service establishments
    • any place of public gatherings, 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.

    Under the ADA, any business, including a private entity, that's open to the public or that provides goods or services to the public is considered a public accommodation.

    Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Have a Service Animal in Colorado

    The ADA protects service animal owners from being interrogated or challenged before taking their animals into public places. Under the law, you can't be questioned about your disability or required to show certification or other proof of your animal's training or status.

    If what your service animal does isn't obvious, the establishment can ask you only the following:

    • whether it's a service animal, and
    • what tasks the animal performs for you.

    You also can't be charged a special admission fee or be required 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.

    And the ADA does allow public accommodations to exclude your service animal if it poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. For example, if your dog is aggressively barking at other customers, the facility manager can kick the dog out. Your animal can also be excluded if:

    • it isn't housebroken, or
    • it's out of control—and you can't or won't take steps to control it.

    Housing Protections for Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals in Colorado

    Both federal and Colorado laws bar housing discrimination against people who use service animals. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities, and your landlord can't charge you extra for having a service animal. But you can be required to pay for any damage your animal causes beyond reasonable wear and tear.

    But federal protections for people with disabilities under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) are broader. Under the FHA, housing providers must allow both service dogs and emotional support animals. The FHA protects your right to have a service dog or ESA in your home if you have both:

    • a disability, and
    • a disability-related need for the animal.

    To qualify for protection under this federal housing law, your animal must:

    • work
    • perform tasks or services, or
    • alleviate the emotional effects of your disability.

    In other words, if you're disabled and you need a service dog or ESA to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy your home, you must be allowed to have your animal without having to pay more. If your lease or rental agreement includes a "no pets" provision, it doesn't apply to your service animal or ESA. Nor do pet deposits, since the FHA doesn't consider service dogs or emotional support animals to be pets.

    (Learn more about your rights as a disabled renter under the Fair Housing Act.)

    Updated April 6, 2023

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