Delaware Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Delaware defines service animals as those trained to help someone with a physical disability, but the ADA covers physical and mental disabilities.

By , J.D. UC Berkeley School of Law

Below, we explain which animals qualify as service animals in Delaware, where service animals are allowed, and some rules you may need to follow with your service animal.

What Counts as a Service Animal in Delaware?

Delaware's Equal Accommodations Law defines a service animal as a guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to perform work or tasks for someone with a physical disability. The law includes examples of tasks a service animal might perform: pulling a wheelchair, fetching dropped items, or providing minimal rescue or protection work. However, the law does not appear to cover service animals that help those with mental disabilities, such as psychiatric service animals. These animals are covered under the ADA, as noted below.

Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog or miniature horse that has been trained to perform disability-related tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability. Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:

  • psychiatric service animals, which can help their handlers manage mental and emotional disabilities by interrupting self-harming behaviors, reminding handlers to take medication, checking spaces for intruders, or providing calming pressure during anxiety or panic attacks
  • seizure alert animals, which let their handlers know of impending seizures, and may also guard their handlers during seizure activity
  • allergen alert animals, which let their handlers know of foods or other substances that could be dangerous (such as peanuts)
  • hearing dogs, which alert their handlers to important sounds, such as alarms and doorbells, and
  • guide dogs, which help those who are blind or visually impaired navigate safely.

Neither the ADA nor Delaware law includes what some people call "emotional support animals": animals that provide 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 their handlers.

How Are Public Accommodations Defined in Delaware?

Delaware's Equal Accommodations Law defines public accommodations as any place that:

  • offers facilities, goods, or services to the public
  • caters to the public, or
  • solicits patronage from the public.

Delaware law includes state and local agencies, as well as hotels and motels that cater to the transient public.

The ADA sets out a long list of facilities that qualify as public accommodations to which you may bring your service animal, including:

  • hotels and other lodging establishments
  • public transportation and terminals, depots, and stations
  • restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
  • any place of public gathering, such as an auditorium or convention center
  • gyms, bowling alleys, parks and other places of exercise or recreation
  • libraries, museums, and educational institutions
  • social service centers, like senior centers, homeless shelters, and food banks.

What Are the Rules Regarding Public Accommodations and Service Animals in Delaware?

Under Delaware's Equal Accommodations Law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring service animals (under Delaware law, only service animals that assist those with physical disabilities) to any public accommodations. Owners of public accommodations, however, are not required to allow emotional support animals and pets. Public accommodations in Delaware must comply with both state and federal law.

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.

The ADA prohibits 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 (for example, if your dog is aggressively barking and snapping at other customers, is not housebroken, or if it is out of control).

Delaware's Equal Accommodations Law doesn't include any rules about charging for or excluding service animals. However, Delaware's White Cane Law provides some rules for guide and leader dogs, who work with those who are blind. You may not be charged any extra fees to have your guide dog with you, but you may have to pay for any damage it causes. And, your guide dog may be excluded if admitting it would create a clear danger of disturbance or of physical harm to others.

What Are the Rules for Assistance Animals in Delaware Housing?

Delaware's White Cane Law requires landlords to allow guide dogs for those who are fully or partially blind. Your landlord may not charge you extra for your guide dog, but you may have to pay for any damage caused by your dog.

As to other types of service animals, Delaware's Fair Housing Law prohibits discrimination in selling or renting housing based on disability, and the law requires landlords and others to make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities. Although the law doesn't refer to service animals, having a service animal might constitute a reasonable accommodation, depending on the circumstances.

But fortunately, the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals, so 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.)

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