Missouri Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Missouri law allows you to bring any type of service dog to public places, but only some types of service dogs to housing.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

Under Missouri's disability 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. Public accommodations in Missouri must comply with both state and federal law. Learn below which animals qualify as service animals, which public accommodations must allow them, and rules you may need to follow with your service animal.

What Is a Service Animal in Missouri?

Under Missouri law, people with disabilities are entitled to bring their service dogs into public places. Service dogs are defined as dogs that are specifically trained to assist those with physical or mental disabilities by doing work or performing necessary tasks that their handlers can't perform for themselves. Examples of the tasks listed in Missouri's law include pulling a wheelchair, performing search and rescue for a person with a disability, and retrieving and carrying items. Because Missouri law explicitly covers mental disabilities, psychiatric service dogs fall within the definition of service dogs, as long as they are specially trained to do necessary work that their handler can't do.

Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog that has been individually trained to perform disability-related tasks or work for a person with a disability. (In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal.) 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 telephones
  • guide dogs, which help those who are blind or have low vision to 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 nuts).

Neither the ADA nor Missouri's service dog law includes what some people call therapy dogs or "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 trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. Under the ADA and Missouri law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals.

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 and service establishments
  • any place of public gathering, such as an auditorium, theater, stadium, museum, gym, zoo, or park
  • educational institutions, and
  • social service centers, like senior centers, homeless shelters, and food banks.

Missouri law applies to:

  • hotels and other lodging places
  • public buildings and facilities
  • public transportation and common carriers (like busse and taxis)
  • all public places of amusement, recreation, or resort, and
  • any other place to which the public is invited.

Rules for Your Service Animal

Under the ADA, a public accommodation may not ask you questions about your disability or demand to see certification 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 Missouri 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 if it is not housebroken or is out of control.

Service Animals in Missouri Housing

Missouri and federal law prohibit discrimination in rental housing accommodations against those who use service animals. Your landlord may not charge you extra for having a service animal (although you may have to pay for damage your animal causes), and you and your service animal must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities. If your lease or rental agreement includes a "no pets" provision, it does not apply to your service animal.

Missouri's housing law, however, protects only blind or partially blind people who have guide dogs; deaf or partially deaf people who have hearing dogs; and people with physical disabilities who have service dogs. People with mental disabilities who have service animals do not appear to be protected by the Missouri housing law.

But pursuant to the federal Fair Housing Act, housing facilities must allow service dogs and emotional support animals, as long as it's 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. (For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development's guidance on service animals.)

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