Friday, September 19, 2014

How to Handle Access Disputes with Your Service Dog

If you have a service dog, at some point you will find yourself faced with an access dispute. You’ll attempt to enter a place of business with your dog and an employee, manager or owner will tell you that you can’t bring your dog inside. Are you prepared?

Make sure you know the law before taking your service dog somewhere.
Occasionally I hear stories about someone attempting to take a service dog somewhere and having an access dispute and getting angry because the business wasn’t complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, when the particular place they wanted to take the dog isn’t subject to the ADA. For instance, churches aren’t subject to the ADA, so if you want to take your service dog to church, you must first get permission from someone in charge at the church.  Legally, the church can refuse to allow you to bring your dog. If you accuse someone of violating the ADA when the ADA doesn’t even apply to them, you appear uneducated and you are unlikely to gain access in that way.

Tell the person questioning you or attempting to deny you access that your dog is a service dog.
Sometimes that’s all it takes. Legally, you are not required to provide proof that your dog is a service dog, such as a certification card or letter from your doctor. Business owners and employees are not permitted to ask for such proof, either.

Tell the person questioning you that the Americans with Disabilities Act gives you permission to bring your service dog into the establishment.  

If they seem unfamiliar with the Americans with Disabilities Act, explain that it is a federal law.

Offer to show them a copy of the business brief issued by the U.S. Department of Justice.

This business brief clearly explains the rights of people with disabilities as well as the rights and responsibilities of businesses. I carry a couple copies in the pockets of my service dog’s vest so I always have them available when needed.

Point out the fact that business owners are permitted to ask only two questions.

They can ask, “Is that a service dog required because of a disability?” and “What task is the dog trained to perform?” Answer those two questions.

Suggest the business owner or employee call the ADA information line at 800-514-0301.  

Note that the information line is only answered on weekdays.

Remove your dog if the business owner or employee still insists you cannot bring your service dog in.  

Yes, they are violating a federal law if they deny you access, but if you refuse to remove your dog when asked to do so, you could end up being charged with trespassing. If you become loud and argumentative and cause a scene, you could also be charged with disorderly conduct. Stay calm, get the name of the person denying you access if you can, and leave.

Contact the manager or owner of the business to describe what happened. 

Be polite and stay calm when discussing the situation. Be prepared to tell the manager or owner what you would like to be done about the problem. For instance, you might ask them to provide training to their employees about the rights of people with service dogs and to post a sign on the door to their business stating that service dogs are welcome.

If the business is part of a larger company, contact the corporate office if the manager or owner does not resolve the problem to your satisfaction.  

Explained what happened, let them know with whom you’ve already spoken about the problem, and let them know what you would like to be done about it.

If all else fails, contact the U.S. Department of Justice to file a complaint against the business.  

Download of copy of the form used to file a complaint from the ADA website. Mail the completed form to the U.S. Department of Justice at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Civil Rights Division Disability Rights Section – 1425 NYAV, Washington, D.C. 20530. You can fax the form to 202-307-1197 or file it via email if you prefer. Contact the ADA information line at 800-514-0301if you have questions or need assistance filing a complaint.


  1. Hi!
    I love your blog! I write one of my own about my service dog, Rally, and my daily adventures, if you'd like to read it at
    I wish more people would write about what day to day life is like with a service dog, and give the public a glimpse into the challenges and triumphs that we encounter. You are an excellent writer, and I enjoyed reading about your life and thinking, "hey, that's happened to me too!"
    -Kendall and Rally

    1. Kelly, Kendall,
      Thank you for your blogs. My dog Brownie has recently been fully approved by my trainer and my psychologist as a service animal. I have severe anxiety and depression, and it has been wonderful and horrible at the same time. It has been wonderful because my best friend can go with me anywhere, so I can go out on my mild to medium days without fear and anxiety attacks don't result in unnecessary trips to the emergency room. It has been horrible at times for many of the reasons mentioned in the posts labeled as access disputes. The access disputes that I have run into often cause my anxiety to flare up, usually eliciting a powerful fight or flight response. I am especially grateful, Kelly, that you mentioned the possible consequences of being confrontational. It will definitely be useful when I have the instinct to fight.

      Kendall, you mentioned that you wished more people will write about their experience with a service dog, and I agree. I will begin one as well. Thank you both for sharing your experiences. Your blogs will definitely help me.