Mississippi Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

What counts as a service animal under Mississippi's Support Animal Act and the federal ADA.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

Under the Mississippi Support Animal Act and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring service animals to all "public accommodations," including businesses, motels, restaurants, stores, theaters, schools, government buildings, and more. Although Mississippi law is more limited than the ADA, public accommodations in Mississippi must comply with both state and federal law. Below, we explain which public accommodations are covered, which animals qualify as service animals, and some rules you may need to follow with your service animal.

What Counts as a Public Accommodation?

In Mississippi, you are entitled to be accompanied by your support animal on all public conveyances, such as buses and taxis, and in all hotels, lodgings, business that are open to the public and sell goods or services, all places of public accommodation, amusement, or resort, and all places to which the general public is invited.

Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is both broad and detailed. It includes all of the above plus also lists libraries, museums, educational institutions, and social service centers (like senior centers, homeless shelters, and food banks).

Which Counts as a Service Animal?

Mississippi's Support Animal Act defines a service animal as a dog or other animal that is specifically trained as a guide, leader, listener, or to provide any other assistance necessary to assist a blind, hearing-impaired, or mobility-impaired person in day-to-day activities. A mobility impairment is defined as one that makes a person unable to move with crutches, a wheelchair, or another form of support, or limits that person's ability to climb, sit, rise, descend, walk, or perform similar types of functions. Only animals that assist people with these physical disabilities are covered: Psychiatric service animals and animals that assist with physical disabilities that don't meet these definitions are not protected by Mississippi state law.

Under the ADA, however, 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 under the ADA.) In addition to hearing dogs and guide dogs ("seeing-eye" dogs), here are some examples of service dogs that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA:

  • 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 dogs, which let their handlers know of impending seizures, and may also guard their handlers during seizure activity, and
  • allergen alert dogs, which let their handlers know of foods or other substances that could be dangerous (such as peanuts).

Neither the ADA nor Mississippi'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, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals. And, as noted above, Mississippi law is even more restrictive, protecting only service animals that assist those who are blind, hearing impaired, or mobility impaired.

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 Mississippi 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 Mississippi Housing

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits 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 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, but you can be asked to provide reliable documentation of your disability and the relationship between your disability and your need for an accommodation in the form of a service or assistance animal. This documentation may be provided by a physician or other medical professional. However, your landlord may not ask you for documentation if your disability and need for a service or assistance animal are readily apparent or the landlord already knows about them. If, for example, you are blind and use a guide dog for navigation, your landlord probably can't request documentation.

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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