Don't get bitten for not knowing the law

Service animals and emotional support animals do not have the same rights

June 20, 2019

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – Laws governing animals that assist people can be confusing. Fielding an increased number of questions from businesses and the public, the Garfield County Consumer Protection Division is working to provide education on the federal regulations that differentiate service and emotional support animals.

“Service animals and emotional support animals are not the same,” said Nettie Mojarro, environmental health specialist with Garfield County Public Health. “It is required to give service animals entry into a business with their owners. For all other animals, including emotional support animals, it is not. In places where food is served, the only animals allowed are service animals.”

Under federal law, service animals are working animals; they are not pets. These animals are trained to perform tasks directly related to an individual’s disability, such as guiding a blind person, pulling a wheelchair, or retrieving items or medication. “These animals ensure their owner’s safety, so that they can conduct normal routine activities,” said Mojarro.

Service animals are not required to wear special harnesses or carry certification papers. Employees are permitted to ask patrons if an animal is a service animal, and what task the animal is trained to perform.

The primary purpose of an emotional support animal is to provide comfort, support, or assistance, without rising to the level of a service animal. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it does not matter if a person has a note from a doctor stating that the person has a disability and needs to have the animal for emotional support. A doctor’s letter does not turn an animal into a service animal.

Under Colorado law, misrepresenting that an animal is a service animal is a petty offense that can carry fines ranging from $50 to $500.

“In early spring, the department was receiving one to three calls a week with complaints and questions about animals being brought into food establishments,” said Mojarro. “We have seen a recent increase and are now fielding three to five calls per week. We receive complaints of animals behaving poorly, going to the bathroom on floors, begging for food off other patron’s plates, or riding in grocery carts. Service animals typically do not behave like that.”

Service animals can only be excluded from a business if they pose a direct threat or health risk to other people. “We are educating our business workers so they know what to ask when an animal enters their establishments. We are also educating people to make sure they know the law.”