Under Pennsylvania law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all public accommodations, including stores, restaurants, bars, hotels, museums, and more. These laws also require those who operate transportation services to allow service animals.
Pennsylvania and federal law differ on their definitions of service animals, but public accommodations in Pennsylvania 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.
Pennsylvania’s Human Rights Act protects people with disabilities from discrimination in the use of public accommodations for using a guide or support animal because of blindness, deafness or “physical handicap.” The criminal statutes make it a misdemeanor for a public accommodation to deny entry to someone who is using a guide dog, signal dog, service dog, or other aid animal that has been certified by a recognized authority to assist a person who is blind, deaf, or has another physical disability. These definitions appear to exclude psychiatric support animals, which assist users with mental disabilities.
Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog (or in some cases, a miniature horse) that is individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. This includes psychiatric service dogs, which are dogs trained in doing specific tasks to help someone with a mental illness or difficulty; examples of tasks might be keeping a disoriented handler from wandering into danger or turning on the lights for someone with PTSD. The tasks or work the animal does must be directly related to the person’s disability.
These laws don't cover 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 Pennsylvania law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals or animal assistants that aid those with disabilities. These laws also don’t apply to pets.
The Pennsylvania Human Rights Act 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 beauty parlors, libraries, and swimming pools.
Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is also very broad. It includes:
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.
Under Pennsylvania’s Administrative Code, people with disabilities who use guide or support animals, as defined under the Pennsylvania law discussed above, may not be discriminated against in housing accommodations or commercial property.
The federal Fair Housing Act requires landlords and 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.)