Pennsylvania Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Pennsylvania state law and federal laws protect your right to have service dogs in public places and housing. ESA laws are more complicated.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

In Pennsylvania, if you're disabled, state law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect your right to bring your service animal to all public accommodations, such as restaurants and bars, stores, and hotels. You also have the right under these laws to have your service animal with you when you use transportation services, like:

  • taxis and ride-shares
  • buses
  • trollies
  • commuter rail
  • shuttles, and
  • rapid transit.

Read on to learn which animals qualify as service animals, which public accommodations must allow them, and how these laws treat emotional support animals.

How the Law Defines Service Animals in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's Human Rights Act protects people with disabilities from discrimination in public accommodations for using a guide or support animal. And the state's criminal statutes make it a misdemeanor for a public accommodation to deny entry to someone using a service animal, including:

  • a guide dog
  • a signal dog, or
  • a service dog.

But the Pennsylvania law states that these protections only cover people who are blind, deaf, or have another physical disability. The state definition of service animal appears to exclude psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals, which assist people with mental disabilities.

In contrast, under the ADA, a service animal is a dog (or sometimes a miniature horse) that's individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability. So the ADA protections include psychiatric service dogs, which are trained to help someone with a mental impairment by performing specific tasks, such as:

  • keeping a disoriented handler from wandering into danger, or
  • turning on the lights for someone with PTSD.

While Pennsylvania and federal law define service animals differently, public accommodations in Pennsylvania must comply with both state and federal law. And you're entitled to rely on whichever law provides the most protections.

Pennsylvania Law and Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals (ESAs) provide companionship and comfort to disabled persons with psychiatric or emotional conditions. But they don't qualify as service animals under either Pennsylvania law or the ADA.

The use of ESAs can often have therapeutic benefits and a sense of safety for their handlers. But since they're not individually trained to perform specific tasks, emotional support animals aren't covered by either Pennsylvania service animal laws or the ADA.

While both state and federal laws require owners of public accommodations to allow trained service animals and aid animals that assist an individual with a disability, they aren't required to admit emotional support animals.

Where Can You Take Your Service Animal in Pennsylvania?

Under the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act (PHRA), public accommodations include any place that offers accommodations, facilities, or advantages to the public. It lists many types of establishments that fit the definition, including:

  • hotels
  • restaurants
  • stores
  • beauty parlors
  • libraries, and
  • swimming pools.

The rules for taking your service dog or emotional support animal on a plane are different than those for public accommodations or housing. Learn more about flying with your service animal or ESA.

Pennsylvania's Service Animal Rules and Your Obligations

When you visit any public accommodation in Pennsylvania, you can't be charged extra to bring your service dog or assistance animal with you. But you can be required to pay for any damage your animal causes.

And an establishment doesn't have to allow your service animal to be there if the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, if your service dog is snarling and snapping at other patrons, and you can't get it to stop the behavior, you could be asked to remove the dog from the premises.

Those who operate public accommodations aren't allowed to ask you detailed questions about your disability or your service animal. But you can be asked if your animal is a service animal and which tasks the animal is trained to perform.

Your Right to Have a Service Animal or ESA in Your Pennsylvania Home

The laws in the Keystone State offer people with disabilities some protections when it comes to service animals and housing. Under Pennsylvania's Administrative Code, if you use a guide or support animal for a physical disability, you can't be discriminated against in housing accommodations or commercial property because of your animal.

Federal law offers you more protection. The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) requires landlords and housing facilities to allow service dogs and emotional support animals if the animal is 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 a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, to qualify for this protection, your animal must:

  • alleviate the emotional effects of your disability, or
  • perform tasks or services for you.

Remember, when it comes to your guide dog, service dog, or emotional support animal, you can rely on whichever law provides the most protection. Federal law forbids housing providers from:

  • denying you access because of a "no pets" policy
  • limiting the size or breed of your animal as they do with pets, or
  • charging you extra fees or higher rent to have your service animal live with you.

What do you do if you feel a housing provider has treated you unfairly because of your disability or the presence of your service animal or ESA? You can file a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

You can also file a discrimination complaint with Pennsylvania's Human Relations Commission for violations of your right to have a guide dog, service dog, or aid animal at a public accommodation or in your home.

Updated March 29, 2023

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