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    March 2015

    Student and Visitor Use of Service and Assistance Animals

    Student and Visitor Use of Service and Assistance Animals

    How should a school or college respond to a student or visitor who wants to bring a service or assistance animal to campus? Two federal departments offer rules for deciding whether to allow animals on campus:

    • The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), which interprets sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that apply to public places, changed its rules in 2010 on what institutions can ask students and visitors with disabilities about service animals.
    • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) filed a lawsuit in 2011 contending that the Fair Housing Act (FHA) applies to schools and colleges. The FHA allows a far broader range of animals for students with disabilities than the ADA.

    Much of the confusion arises because DoJ uses the term "service animal" and HUD uses the term "assistance animal." The terms have different definitions, and institutions must respond differently to requests for using them.


    • Definition of service animal: A service animal is a dog or miniature horse that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These include tasks such as guiding a blind person, recognizing seizures, or retrieving items.
    • Responding to requests for use: Limited inquiries are allowed only when it is not obvious what service the animal provides. Schools may ask two questions: Is the service animal required because of a disability; and what work or task has the animal been trained to perform? Institutions cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.


    • Definition of assistance animal: An assistance animal is any kind of animal that alleviates a disability, including those that solely provide emotional support. While the FHA does not contain a specific definition of assistance animal, any type, breed, or size of animal may be required as an accommodation. The animal does not need to be trained to perform a task.
    • Responding to requests for use: HUD has retained the interactive process typically used to accommodate students with disabilities—the student discloses the disability, the institution verifies it, and together they find reasonable accommodations. Under the FHA, institutions can require proof of a disability and documentation that an assistance animal relieves symptoms of that disability.

    “DoJ and HUD have shown their enforcement priorities include bringing Fair Housing Act claims against colleges and universities,” says Scott Parrish Moore, an attorney who formerly worked in DoJ’s Civil Rights Division and now represents colleges and universities. “The federal government believes that the same rules apply to student housing as traditional apartment complexes.”

    Recent court victories by HUD are likely to embolden the agency to investigate other educational institutions not following its regulations on assistance animals. HUD guidance states that an accommodation must be made to allow a student to have an assistance animal in student housing if it is necessary because of a disability. It is unclear whether HUD or DoJ consider facilities serving residence halls—such as dining facilities and wellness centers—part of student housing.


    Until the federal government clarifies the law in this area, UE recommends its members seek legal advice and suggests the following practical steps:

    • Review policies pertaining to students and visitors with disabilities to ensure they comply with the 2010 ADA rules regarding service animals.
    • Avoid copying the policies and procedures of other institutions; because this issue is in flux, practices on other campuses may be out of date or incorrect.
    • Revise policies to distinguish between service animals and assistance animals.
    • Engage in the interactive process on assistance animal requests and ensure that the requester has a disability that is alleviated by the assistance animal.
    • Do not require the student to prove that the assistance animal is certified or has received specialized training.
    • All institutions with student housing should comply with the HUD rules on assistance animals unless directed otherwise by legal counsel.


    Department of Justice
    Guidance on Service Animals

    Department of Housing and Urban Development
    Memo on Assistance Animals Under the FHA

    ADA National Network
    Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals: Where are they allowed and under what conditions?


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