Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Connecticut’s public accommodations law, people with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by their service animals in restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, and other places that are open to the public. Connecticut’s law is more limited than the ADA, because it covers only dogs that assist those who are blind, deaf, or mobility-impaired; it doesn’t cover psychiatric service animals and service animals that assist those with other types of disabilities, as the ADA does. However, public accommodations in Connecticut must follow both state and federal law.
Read on to learn which public accommodations are covered, which animals qualify as service animals, and some rules you may need to follow with your service animal.
Connecticut’s public accommodations law protects only those who use service dogs for certain disabilities. Those who are blind must be allowed to bring their guide dogs into public accommodations. The law also protects those who are deaf or have a mobility impairment and use assistance dogs. People who use service dogs for other disabilities, such as psychiatric disabilities or intellectual disabilities, are not protected by Connecticut law. However, as noted below, the ADA does protect those with other disabilities, and public accommodations in Connecticut must comply with the ADA.
Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog that has been trained to perform disability-related tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability. In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal. In addition to guide dogs and hearing dogs, here are some examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA:
Neither Connecticut law nor the ADA cover what some people call “emotional support animals”: animals whose presence provides a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities.
Connecticut’s public accommodations law gives certain people with disabilities the right to bring their service animals on all modes of public transportation (such as buses, trains, ferries, and so on) and into all places of public accommodation. A public accommodation is any place that caters to, or offers goods, services, or facilities to, the general public. It includes public buildings, commercial buildings and lots, hotels and inns, restaurants, and places of amusement or resort.
Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is equally broad. However, religious entities, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques, are not considered public accommodations under the ADA. This is so even if the religious entity offers secular services, such as a day-care center that admits children whether or not they are members of or affiliated with the religious institution. Private clubs (member-controlled nonprofit groups that are highly selective, charge substantial membership fees, and were not created in order to avoid compliance with civil rights laws) are also not covered by the ADA. However, if a private club makes facilities available to nonmembers, it is subject to the ADA’s public accommodation rules as to those facilities.
Under the ADA, a public accommodation may not ask you questions about your disability or demand to see certification, identification, 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. Connecticut law requires public accommodations to admit guide dogs and service dogs only if they are wearing a harness or an orange collar and leash.
The ADA and Connecticut law 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. However, you may have to pay for any damage your animal causes.
The ADA allows a public accommodation to exclude your service animal if it poses a direct threat to health and safety (or 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 if it is out of control and you are unable or unwilling to effectively control it. You are still entitled to enter the public accommodation even if your service animal is not allowed in.
Connecticut law prohibits housing discrimination, including discrimination against those with physical, mental, or learning disabilities. The state’s fair housing law also requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations (for example, by changing their usual rules and policies) if necessary for a person with a disability to enjoy and use the property. However, the law does not make any specific references to service animals.
Fortunately, the federal Fair Housing Act specifically prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities, and may not be charged 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.
Pursuant to 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.)