Facts about Service Animals in the Hospitality Industry

Horses, and ducks and monkeys! Oh, my! We are approaching one of the craziest travel seasons of the year, and you could very well be sitting next to a miniature horse, duck or monkey if you are traveling on an airplane. Do hotels, restaurants and clubs have to extend a warm welcome to any and all types of animals that come onto their premises? Well, this was the topic of discussion during a legal education session at the HFTP® Annual Convention that took place last month at Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada USA. The session was moderated by Richard Belair, SPHR, director of human resources at The Westmoor Club. The session was presented by Sean O’Connor, Esq., attorney and partner at Morgan, Brown & Joy, LLP and Keith Pabian, Esq., attorney and partner at Pabian Law, LLC. The audience had many questions pertaining to this matter including the types of animals covered, services that must be provided, and legal ramifications.

First of all, a distinction must be made between the laws in the United States governing hospitality businesses on the ground versus those in the air. Hotels, restaurants and clubs must follow legal standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and airplanes fall under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Historically, the ADA held a strict rule that only dogs could be considered service animals. In 2010, these rules were revised to also include miniature horses. Therefore, guests with disabilities visiting locations covered by the ADA are allowed to bring service animals such as dogs or miniature horses onto the property.

Historically, the ADA held a strict rule that only dogs could be considered service animals. In 2010, these rules were revised to also include miniature horses.

Many operators have dealt with guests accompanied by service dogs, but what accommodations must be provided to individuals accompanied by miniature horses? Can a hotel require documentation for a miniature horse functioning as a service animal? No. Does a hotel have to provide food for the miniature horse? No. Can the miniature horse be left in a guest room unattended? No. These are some excellent questions. The United States Department of Justice has compiled a document which addresses these questions along with many others. Please check it out at the following link.

Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and the ADA

The next logical question would be: Why do we see Facebook posts and news stories about monkeys, ducks, kangaroos and turkeys traveling as support animals on airplanes? Yes, that is correct. If you do a Google search, you will find pictures of turkeys and kangaroos riding in an airplane next to their travel companions. Rules governing what is considered a service animal or a support animal under the ACAA is not as strict as those set forth by the ADA. Under the ACAA, any animal trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability or any animal necessary for the emotional well-being of a passenger is permitted on an airplane. For a side-by-side comparison of the ADA versus the ACAA, click on the following matrix provided by the United States Department of Transportation.

Remember, a service animal is not a pet.

Air Carrier Access Act vs. Americans with Disabilities Act

Remember, a service animal is not a pet. These animals are trained to assist an individual with disabilities and help keep them safe. In many cases, these animals can help avoid a medical emergency or provide an individual with independence while traveling. Train staff to properly evaluate each situation individually and do what is best for the establishment while showing compassion for their guest’s needs.

For further information on service animals in the United State, please visit the following links. If you would like information on international destinations, please contact the HFTP Americas Research Center.


venegas_tanyawTanya Venegas, MBA, MHM, CHIA is the executive director at the HFTP Americas Research Center at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. Contact Tanya via email at tmvenegas@uh.edu or via phone at 713-743-1839.

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About the Author: Tanya Venegas