Under Ohio law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all "public accommodations," such as restaurants, museums, hotels, and stores. These laws also require those who operate transportation services to allow service animals.
Ohio law and federal law differ on service animals, but public accommodations in Ohio must comply with both state and federal law, and their patrons are entitled to rely on whichever law provides the most protections. Read on to learn which animals qualify as service animals, which public accommodations must allow them, and more.
Ohio has two different sets of laws on service animals and public accommodations, and they describe which animals qualify for protection differently. Under the Ohio Revised Code's dog laws, "assistance dogs" are allowed to accompany people with disabilities into public accommodations. Assistance dogs must be trained by a nonprofit special agency, and are limited to guide dogs that have been trained to assist a blind person, hearing dogs that have been trained to assist someone who is deaf or hearing-impaired, and service dogs that have been trained to assist someone who is mobility-impaired. Under this definition, psychiatric service animals don’t qualify, nor do animals trained to assist with other disabilities, such as a seizure alert animal who assists someone with epilepsy, an animal that alerts someone with diabetes of low blood sugar, or an animal trained to detect allergens.
However, another provision of Ohio law, in the Administrative Code that interprets the state’s civil rights laws, has a much broader definition of service animals—and this law also applies to public accommodations. Under the Administrative Code, people with disabilities may bring all “animal assistants” into places of public accommodation. An animal assistant is any animal that assists a person with a disability. The examples provided include a hearing dog, a guide dog, and a monkey that retrieves things. Because the definition of disability in the Administrative Code includes both physical and mental impairments, this provision of the law appears to include psychiatric service animals and animals trained to perform other services for those with disabilities.
Under the ADA, a service animal is simply a dog that is individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. (In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal under the ADA.) The tasks or work the animal does must be directly related to the person’s disability.
None of these laws cover pets or what some 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 individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. Under the ADA and Ohio law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals or animal assistants that aid those with disabilities.
Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is very broad. It includes:
The Ohio Administrative Code defines public accommodations to include any place that offers accommodations, facilities, or advantages to the public. It lists many types of establishments that fit the bill, from hotels, restaurants, and stores to insurance companies, hospitals, skating rinks, and video arcades.
You may not be charged extra to bring your service animal or animal assistant to any public accommodation. However, you may be required to pay for any damage your animal causes.
A public accommodation is not required to allow your service animal to remain if it poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. If, for example, your service dog is growling and lunging at other patrons, and you are unable to stop the behavior, the dog might have to leave.
An establishment may not ask you detailed questions about your disability or your animal. However, the establishment may ask if your animal is a service animal, and which tasks the animal is trained to perform.
If you choose to register your service dog, Ohio allows you to get a permanent registration tag. Although owners of other dogs must pay to register their animals, it’s free to register a service dog in Ohio.
Under Ohio’s Administrative Code, people with disabilities who use animal assistants are entitled to have those animals with them on any premises they lease, rent, purchase, or sublet. Your landlord may not require you to pay extra to have a service animal, although you are liable for any damages your service animal causes to the property or to another person.
The federal Fair Housing Act requires housing facilities to 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.)