Texas Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Texas law and federal law protect your right to have service dogs in public places and housing.

Under Texas law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all public accommodations, such as government buildings, hotels, restaurants, stadiums, and stores. These laws also require those who operate transportation services to allow service animals. Both laws protect people in Texas who use service animals, and you are entitled to rely on whichever law gives you the most protections. Read on to learn which animals qualify as service animals, which public accommodations must allow them, and more.

Service Animals Defined in Texas

Under Texas's Human Resources Code, a service animal or an assistance animal is a dog that is specially trained to assist someone with a disability and is actually used by a person with a disability. These conditions count as a disability:

  • deafness or another hearing impairment
  • a visual impairment
  • a speech impairment
  • a mental disability
  • a physical disability
  • an intellectual or developmental disability
  • post-traumatic stress disorder, or
  • any health impairment for which the person needs special ambulatory services or devices.

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. The tasks or work the animal does must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Neither law covers pets or what some 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 specially trained to do particular types of work for their owners. Under the ADA and Texas law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals that fit the definitions above. (Psychiatric service dogs are, however, covered by both Texas law and the ADA. These are dogs that are trained to provide services such as responding to an owner's panic attack by initiating contact to comfort the owner or alerting an owner who is exercising poor judgment due to bipolar disorder that he or she is driving dangerously.)

What Counts as a Public Accommodation in Texas?

Texas law has a very broad definition of public accommodations. It includes everything from government buildings and public streets, sidewalks, and transportation to restaurants, hotels, stores, offices, places for recreation and amusement, and any other place where members of the public are customarily invited.

Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is also very broad. It includes:

  • hotels and other lodging establishments
  • public transportation terminals, depots, and stations
  • restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
  • sales or rental establishments
  • service establishments
  • any place of public gathering, such as an auditorium or convention center
  • places of entertainment and exhibit, like theaters or sports stadiums
  • gyms, bowling alleys, and other places of exercise or recreation
  • recreational facilities, such as zoos and parks
  • libraries, museums, and other places where items are collected or displayed publicly
  • educational institutions, and
  • social service centers.

You may bring your service animal to any place that appears on either of these lists. As you can see, most places you can think of are covered.

Rules for Your Service Animal in Texas

Under Texas law, no public accommodation may make demands or ask questions about your service animal’s certification or qualifications, except to determine what type of assistance the animal provides. If your disability is not apparent, the establishment may ask whether your animal is a service animal and what work it is trained to do for you.

The ADA allows public accommodations to exclude a service animal that poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. For example, if your dog is dangerously aggressive towards other patrons, it can be kicked out.

You cannot be charged extra to bring your service animal on public transportation. However, you can be required to pay for any damage your animal causes.

If you use a service animal to assist you with travel or auditory awareness, the animal must be in a harness and leash.

There are penalties for refusing to allow a service animal in a public accommodation. Texas law also imposes penalties on those who falsely claim or imply (for example, by using a service animal harness) that their animal is a service animal, when it is not.

Service Animals in Texas Housing

Under Texas’s service animal law, people with disabilities who have service animals are entitled to full and equal access to housing. You may not be required to pay extra to have a service animal, or to pay a special deposit. However, 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.)

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