West Virginia Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

West Virginia allows service dogs and emotional support animals in all housing and public places.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

Under West Virginia's White Cane Law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring service animals to all "public accommodations," including restaurants, theaters, schools, stores, businesses, motels, and more. Below, we explain which public accommodations are covered, which animals qualify as service animals, and some rules you may need to follow with your service animal.

Which Support Animals Are Covered in West Virginia?

Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog (or miniature horse) that has been trained to perform disability-related tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. In addition to hearing dogs and guide dogs, service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:

  • seizure alert animals, which let their handlers know of impending seizures, and may also guard their handlers during seizure activity
  • allergen alert animals, which let their handlers know of foods or other substances that could be dangerous (such as peanuts), and
  • psychiatric service animals, which can help their handlers manage mental and emotional disabilities by reminding handlers to take medication, checking spaces for intruders, or providing calming pressure during panic attacks.

West Virginia's White Cane Law defines a service animal as a guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to perform work or tasks for someone with a physical or mental disability. The law lists the following as examples of tasks a service animal might perform:

  • guiding those with visual impairments
  • alerting those with hearing impairments to intruders or other sounds
  • pulling a wheelchair
  • fetching dropped items, or
  • providing minimal rescue or protection work.

Neither the ADA nor West Virginia law includes what some people 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 West Virginia law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals.

Public Accommodations Defined in West Virginia

West Virginia's White Cane Law defines public accommodations to include:

  • public transportation and common carriers, including airplanes, cars, buses, ferries, and streetcars
  • hotels and lodging places
  • restaurants
  • hospitals and professional offices that provide health services or legal services
  • other places of public accommodation, resort, or amusement, and
  • other places to which the general public is invited, including places of employment.

The ADA sets out a long list of facilities that qualify as public accommodations to which you may bring your service animal, including:

  • hotels and other lodging establishments
  • public transportation and terminals, depots, and stations
  • restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
  • 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, like senior centers, homeless shelters, and food banks.

Rules for Your Service Animal

Under the ADA, a public accommodation may not ask you questions about your disability or demand to see certification, identification, 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.

West Virginia's White Cane Law specifically says that a service animal need not be licensed or certified by the government. Your service animal also need not have any particular sign or label. It must be on leash while on a common carrier like a bus, and it may not take up a seat on public transportation.

The ADA and West Virginia law both 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. West Virginia law creates an exception to this rule: You are not liable for damage done by your service animal to someone (or that person's property) who provokes or incites your animal to cause damage.

The ADA allows a public accommodation to exclude your service animal if it poses a direct threat to health and safety (or example, if your dog is aggressively barking and snapping at other customers, the facility can kick the dog out). Your animal may also be excluded if it is not housebroken, or if it is out of control and you are unable or unwilling to effectively control it. You are still entitled to enter the public accommodation even if your service animal is not allowed in.

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals in West Virginia Housing

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

Pursuant to the federal Fair Housing Act, housing facilities must 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.)

Similarly, West Virginia's fair housing law prohibits discrimination in selling or renting housing based on disability and requires landlords to accommodate assistance animals: any service, therapy, or support animal that weighs less than 150 pounds. The animal must provide assistance or do work or tasks for the benefit of someone with a disability, or must provide emotional support that alleviates at least one identified effect or symptom of the person's disability. The animal need not be certified or have specific training. However, a landlord need not allow an assistance animal that would pose a direct threat to health and safety or that would cause substantial physical damage to the property.

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