Massachusetts Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

When Massachusetts laws allow you to bring a service dog or emotional support animal to public places or housing.

Under Massachusetts’s disability rights law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service dogs to all "public accommodations," including stores, businesses, motels, restaurants, theaters, schools, and more. These laws do not apply to emotional support animals, therapy dogs, or pets. The laws on housing, however, may allow you to have an emotional support animal or a service dog. Learn below which animals qualify as service animals, which places must allow them, and rules you may need to follow with your service animal.

Service Animals Defined in Massachusetts

Massachusetts’s disability rights law requires public accommodations to allow those who are blind, deaf, or otherwise have a physical disability to be accompanied by a "dog guide." The law doesn’t explain what a dog guide is or what tasks it must be capable of. Under the ADA, however, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. The tasks or work the animal does must be directly related to the person’s disability. (In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal under the ADA.)

Massachusetts law is more limited than the ADA, but public accommodations in Massachusetts must comply with both state and federal law.

Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:

  • hearing dogs, which alert their handlers to important sounds, such as alarms, doorbells, and other signals
  • guide dogs, which help those who are blind or visually impaired navigate safely
  • psychiatric service animals, which help their handlers manage mental and emotional disabilities by, for example, 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, and
  • allergen alert animals, which let their handlers know of foods or other substances that could be dangerous (such as peanuts).

Neither the ADA nor Massachusetts’s service animal 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 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 Massachusetts law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals or dog guides. These laws also don’t apply to pets.

Which Public Accommodations Must Allow Service Animals

Under the ADA, 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.

The Massachusetts definition of public accommodation is similarly broad. Many categories of establishments are listed, as well as any place that is open to, and accepts or solicits the patronage of, the public.

Rules for Your Service Animal

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 and Massachusetts 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.

Under the ADA, your service animal can be excluded from a public accommodation 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.

Service Animals in Massachusetts Housing

Both the federal Fair Housing Act and Massachusetts law prohibit discrimination in rental 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 be 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.

In Massachusetts, the housing discrimination law specifically references only dog guides used by people who are blind or deaf. However, the law also requires landlords and other housing entities to make reasonable accommodations to allow those with disabilities to use housing premises. According to the Massachusetts Office on Disability, this could include allowing a service animal or even an emotional support animal for other physical or mental disabilities.

And 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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