SERVICE & SUPPORT ANIMALS
This page provides basic information about the rights and responsibilities of people with service and support animals; obtaining and licensing a service or support animal; traveling with a service and support animal; and some of the laws that govern service and support animals.
What is a Service Animal?
Under the newest ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations enacted March 15th 2011, a service animal is a dog (or miniature horse) trained to perform beneficial tasks directly related to an individual’s disability. Because there are so many helpful tasks performed by dogs, there are no specific legal definitions of a task.
In spite of the ADA changes, San Francisco is maintaining its broader interpretation of the laws. Both the Fair Housing Amendments’ Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which cities are required to comply with, has a broader definition of service animal. With this broader definition, San Francisco’s current policy will remain in effect for most situations. This means:
You CAN Bring Your Service / Support Animal (of any species) into:
- City and County buildings, agencies and departments such as City Hall, Department of Public Health or the County Clerk.
- Contracted agencies and programs such as public health clinics, case management or mental health services.
- Public or private housing, including SROs, homeless shelters and residential treatment programs funded by or contracted with the City.
Click HERE to see SF Mayor’s Office on Disability information regarding 2011 ADA Definition and requirement of Service Animals.
What is a Support Animal?
Unlike service animals, support animals do not require training to perform specific tasks. Instead, a support animal provides comfort and companionship. The human-animal bond that results from a support animal provides assistance in many ways for example: reducing the effects disabling psychiatric ailments, providing a positive immune boost or decreasing healing time. Though these animals are not considered service animals, they are protected under both federal and state housing laws as reasonable accommodations. For more information on laws related to housing and support animals, visit the Housing Info tab.
Registration of Service or Support Animal
Registration of a service or support animal is not a requirement. Legally, what determines that an animal is a service or support animal is a letter from your doctor (see “Get a Doctor’s Letter” below). Therefore, you cannot be prevented from entering a business or residence with your service or support animal simply because you do not have proof of registration.
However, California does register service dogs through county animal enforcement departments. Though service dog tags (or vests) are not required by the ADA or any California laws, they are a convenient and visible way for business owners, landlords and others to recognize a service animal.
In San Francisco, service dogs only can be licensed through Animal Care and Control (ACC). Click for ACC’s Service Dog registration process and requirements. ACC is located at 1200 15th Street in San Francisco. You can contact ACC at 415.554.6364.
Getting a Doctor's Letter
In order to prove that a dog is a service or support animal, you may be asked to have documentation from a licensed professional (doctor, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist, other mental-health professional or social worker) stating that the animal is an essential part of treatment for a disability. A doctor’s letter must have two essential components.
It must state that you have a disability. The disability does not need to be identified.
It must state that it is the professional opinion of the provider that is it essential for you to have a service/support animal.
Regardless of whether you are asked to show a doctors letter, it is very helpful to have one on file just in case. (Click for Sample Doctor’s Letter.)
Getting a Service Animal?
Training Your Animal
Since a service animal needs to accomplish some task that aids a disability, it is likely that the animal needs to be trained. Training can be completed by anyone including a licensed trainer, a friend, family member or the person with a disability. Some animals such as seeing-eye or signal dogs may require extensive professional training. There are organizations that can assist people with disabilities to get a pre-trained dog or provide training, including Canine Companions for Independence and California Canine Academy / Assistance Dogs.
If you cannot find or afford a trained animal or are looking for a support animal it is always great to adopt. Shelter and rescue animals make wonderful support and service animals and often require less hard work to train than a puppy from a breeder. There are many shelters and rescue organizations in the area.
What You Should Know About Having a Service Animal
Like pets, service and support animals must be under the control of their guardian. This means you are responsible for using a leash, harness or tether or the use of hand or voice signals (where the disability requires).
In addition, you are responsible for any property damage caused by your animal. Additionally, California and many other states have laws which make owners liable for any damage as a result of a dog bite.
Lastly, service and support animals should be cared for in a healthy and humane manner. You are responsible for cleaning up after your animal in both public and private spaces and you should avoid creating a nuisance due to barking, meowing or other behaviors that might affect other people.
Access to Businesses and other Public Buildings (public accommodations)
Laws you should know about:
Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
According to the ADA, if you have a service animal, public entities and accommodations must modify their policies to accommodate the use of your service animal. A public accommodation is a business or other place that is open to the public generally such as a restaurant, hotel or retail store whereas a public entity is a government building like city hall or a courthouse.
Unruh Act (California Civil Code section 52)
The Unruh Act makes it unlawful for businesses of any kind to discriminate against people with disabilities. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing the Unruh Act and will investigate any denial of accommodation for service dogs. Additionally, the DFEH may investigate a denial of accommodation for access to public entities or accommodations regarding support animals.
Denial of Access to Public Buildings
If you are denied access (for either a valid or invalid reason) the establishment must still allow you to enter without your animal and provide the same services that all other public entrants receive. In order to provide the same services and to ensure full access the establishment may need to make accommodations.
What is a Valid Reason for a Denial of Access?
A denial of accommodation may be justified if there is undue burden (financial or change in function of facility) or a direct threat (an immediate threat of substantial harm to person or property). There may be other legitimate reasons for a denial but in all instances the decision must be made on a case by case basis.
In regards to animals, there must be some criteria or prior history regarding the animal to claim undue burden or direct threat.
Service and Support Animals in the Home
Service and support animals are just as important in the home as they are in public places. There are several laws that protect the rights of people with support or service animals in their homes.
Federally, the Fair Housing Amendments Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require reasonable accommodations to provide an equal opportunity to use and enjoy one’s home. These federal laws are enforced by the Housing and Urban Development department (HUD). In California there are similar protections provided by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) which is enforced by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
For more information, visit the Housing Info tab.
Traveling With a Service and Support Animal
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) provides a large number of protections for people with disabilities, including allowing service and support animals to travel with the supported individual in the main cab of the plane regardless of size.
If you are traveling with a service animal, be sure that you have a doctor’s letter with you. It’s not required, but it would be helpful if your dog wears service tags. See section on Registration of Service or Support Animal.
Make sure to inform the airline beforehand that you will be traveling with a service/support animal, so there are no surprises when you arrive.
For domestic flights, service animals are allowed in the cabin without a muzzle and at no cost. International flights may be different. If there is a problem accommodating the animal, the airline may allow a seat change (within the same class only).
You are 100% responsible for the care and control the animal. No obligation falls on the air carrier. Your animal must be well behaved and act appropriately during the entire trip, especially for long trips. (If the need arises you might have to provide appropriate means for the bathroom; i.e. a pad). If your animal does not behave, the airline has the ability to deny your animal or require your animal to travel as a “pet.” Airlines have different rules for pets.
Trains, Buses, Taxi Cabs
Means of transportation (other than planes) falls under the ADA in regard to access for people with disabilities. Access for people with a service dog should not be restricted but access for a support animal may be restricted. Yet, most public means of transportation have pet policies that, when followed, will allow access for support animals. Your animal must still be well behaved.
This page provides basic information on housing including issues related to support/assistance and service animals and the laws that govern reasonable accommodation as well as some leads for finding pet-friendly housing and/or shelter in the San Francisco Bay Area.
What is reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is a change in current policies or practices that is necessary to provide an equal opportunity to use and enjoy one’s home. Accommodations must be related to the disability and there are several laws that protect the rights of people with support or service animals in their homes.
Federally, the Fair Housing Amendments Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require reasonable accommodations. Federal laws are enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In California there are similar protections provided by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) which is enforced by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Both federally and in California, the responsible departments will investigate and enforce any discriminatory behavior constituting a denial or violation of reasonable accommodations. You may also want to contact your local fair housing agency as they may be able to respond to your request for assistance more quickly.
What are my rights
Reasonable accommodations have consistently been upheld for several areas in regard to animals, and have formed a strong core of rights regarding the use and enjoyment of one’s home.
Support and service animals have the right to access all common areas of the dwelling. Common areas may include lobbies, stairwells, shared outdoor spaces, entrances, exits or any other space that can be accessed by all of the inhabitants of the building.
Additionally, a resident may not be charged a deposit or additional fee as a condition of allowing a service or support animal in the dwelling. No modifications or additions to any lease agreement may be required as a prerequisite to allowing a service or support animal on the premises though both landlord and tenant may find it helpful to outline general expectations regarding animals.
As a general rule under the ADA (American With Disabilities Act) and the Fair Housing Act, people with disabilities do not have to identify their disability, though if a disability is not obvious, a landlord may ask for verification of a disability and evidence of need for a service or support animal from a licensed professional (doctor, nurse practitioner, mental health professional or social worker).
For further information about the general rights and responsibilities regarding service and support animals please see the Service and Support Animals tab.
When is Denial of Accommodation Justified?
A denial of accommodation may be justified if the accommodation is unreasonable. Primarily, an accommodation is unreasonable if it poses an undue burden (financial or change in function of facility) or a direct threat (an immediate threat of substantial harm to person or property). There may be other legitimate reasons for a denial but in all instances the decision must be made on a case by case basis.
In regards to animals, there must be some evaluative criteria or prior history in regards to the specific animal in question in order for a landlord to make an adequate assessment of undue burden or direct threat. Without an adequate assessment, any denial of accommodation will create an inference of discrimination on the part of the landlord.
What are My Responsibilities?
In order to protect yourself, your animal and your rights there are some basic responsibilities regarding service and support animals in housing.
First, all animals must be under control when in common areas.
Second, animals should not create a nuisance or unreasonable disturbance of other’s use and enjoyment of the dwelling.
Third, any damage or waste created by the animal is the responsibility of the owner and should be remedied as soon as possible.
Lastly, all responsibility for the care and maintenance of the animal is the sole responsibility of the owner.
For more information see the Service & Support Animals tab.
Finding Housing and/or Shelter in the San Francisco Bay Area
Finding housing that is adequate for all of our needs can often be difficult. When faced with finding housing there are several resources in the Bay Area that can help people who have formed a bond with their animals and wish to maintain the entire family (animals included).
Pet Friendly Housing Providers
There are many pet friendly housing options in the Bay Area. Many of the pet friendly options are through small management companies or landlords but there are some larger management companies that provide low-cost housing that allow pets.
ALL housing providers must allow service and support animals that are a reasonable accommodation with no extra charge or deposit. Whereas housing providers that allow pets can ask for a deposit and other conditions to having a pet.
Here are three major pet friendly management companies that you can contact to find out about available low-income pet-friendly housing:
Community Housing Partnership
Satellite Affordable Housing Associates
In San Francisco there are several shelters that allow pets. Additionally, all shelters must accommodate service and support animals (though may require certain restraints for safety). There are 3 shelters in San Francisco that actually have facilities for pets:
Multi-Service Center South
525 5th Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
201 8th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
1001 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR VETERINARY CARE
If you are not a PAWS client, or if you are a PAWS client and have exhausted your PAWS vet fund, we have compiled some information to assist you with covering the cost of veterinary care. Included is a list of organizations in the Bay Area and Northern California that provide financial assistance for veterinary care.
Financial Assistance Information
Financial Assistance Tips for Medical Treatment for Your Pet
To download a copy of this document click here.
The Humane Society of the United States has a very informative webpage giving advice and links to assist with veterinary costs: Having Trouble Affording Veterinary Care?
Financial Assistance Organizations – SF Bay Area & Northern California
Marin Humane Society
Provides pet care assistance in Marin County to seniors with low-income, people living with HIV/AIDS, and those receiving hospice services in Marin County. They also provide Pet Meals on Wheels, dog obedience classes for seniors and adoption assistance for home-bound residents.
The Pet Fund
The Pet Fund ONLY funds non-basic, non-emergency care. This includes medical care that is above and beyond basic care but which does not require urgent treatment. They have a wait list for funding, due to the large number of applicants.
Dog breed-specific veterinary care assistance programs
SPAY/NEUTER & LOW-COST VACCINATIONS
San Francisco SPCA Hospital
Free or low-cost spay/neuter for pets of San Francisco residents. By appointment only and the animal must be current on vaccinations. 201 Alabama St. at 16th St. 415-554-3030.
Peninsula Humane Society Mobile Van
Free spay/neuter. No appointment necessary; first come, first served. Pets are fixed from 8am – 9am but we recommend arriving as early as possible, even by 5:30am or 6am. Only one pet per family. Pet must be older than 4 months and younger than 8 years old. No dogs over 80 pounds. Pet must not eat after midnight the night before; water is ok. Must be current on vaccinations. Questions only call 650-340-7022, x387.
VETCO Clinics aspire to provide a positive, affordable, professional health care option for pet owners. We are dedicated to professionalism and advancement of the veterinary field through cooperation with veterinary colleagues, practices and teaching institutions nation wide. To find the nearest Affordable Dog and Cat Vaccination Clinic, please visit our Clinic Locator. Questions? Give Vetco a call at 1-877-838-7468.
If you are homeless in San Francisco, San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium’s Veterinary Street Outreach Services (VET SOS) project offers free vet services for your companion animal(s). The van typically provides services on the second Friday of each month and at Project Homeless Connect events. Call VET SOS at 415-355-2248 or visit their webpage at www.vetsos.org for the next clinic dates, locations and eligibility guidelines.
VIP Pet Care
VIP Petcare Services holds over 200 clinics in Northern California per month. They offer all canine and feline vaccinations, microchipping, blood and fecal testing, flea and tick control, ear mite treatment, deworming, and heartworm prevention at all clinic locations. Services are provided by a state licensed veterinarian without an exam fee. No matter where you live in their service area, there is a Saturday or Sunday clinic nearby. Search by your zip code here to find the most convenient time and area.