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Service Animal Guidance

Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals – Know the Difference!

Service Animals

Why It’s Important to Respect Service Animal Laws & Guidelines

Although you may be comfortable with your emotional support animal or pet, those around you may not be. Some people could even be allergic to your animal.

Misrepresenting your animal as a trained service animal is a crime. It also puts an unnecessary strain on service animals in the same vicinity, as they have one more distraction to work around while they’re working for their owner.

An untrained animal could become stressed and hurt another community member – even if it is well-behaved. This could put your emotional support animal at risk.

Being a responsible animal owner means respecting the law, your fellow community members, and your animal itself.

Service Animals - What's the law in Colorado?

Colorado state law HB16-1426 went into effect in 2017 making it a petty offense to intentionally misrepresent an animal as a service animal or a service-animal-in-training.  Following a verbal or written warning about intentionally misrepresenting an animal as a service animal or a service-animal-in-training, a first offense is punishable by a fine of $45. A second offense is punishable by a fine between $50 and $200. Subsequent offenses are punishable by a fine between $100 and $500.

What Qualifies an Animal as a Service Animal?

Services animals can only be dogs or miniature horses that are trained to perform a specific task for a person with a disability. An animal that provides emotional support or comfort to its owner is not a service animal.

Keep in mind, work and tasks performed by service animals may not be visible. Service animals can be trained to do a multitude of tasks including detecting the onset of a seizure, protecting an owner during a seizure, detecting low blood sugar in a diabetic owner and more.

Covered entities, including state and local governments, businesses, restaurants, and nonprofit organizations that provide goods or services to the public can ask the following questions to an owner only if his or her disability or the work performed by his or her service animal isn’t apparent:

  1. Is this a service animal?
  2. What work or tasks has the animal been trained to perform?

No other questions or requests are permitted and the owner does not need to provide you with any documentation (besides a pet license).

Covered entities can only deny access if:

  1. The animal is out of control and the owner doesn’t take steps to control the animal.
  2. The animal is not housebroken.
  3. The animal is posing a threat (behaving aggressively) to the health and safety of others that can’t be reduced to an acceptable level by making other reasonable accommodations.

Are Emotional Support Animals Protected?

Emotional support animals, also referred to as companion animals, do provide therapeutic benefits to their owners, but aren’t protected the same way as service animals and are not professionally trained.

Owners must fit the medical definition of a disability, receive a diagnosis by a doctor or mental health professional and receive a letter stating that the animal benefits the owner in response to said disability.

Emotional support animals are allowed in your home – even if you are renting your home – and to accompany you during air travel. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not allowed in legally covered entities including state and local governments, businesses, restaurants, and nonprofit organizations that provide goods or services to the public.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I ask for proof that the animal is truly a service animal?

A: No. Service animals are not required to wear vests, collars or other identifying features (besides a pet license). You cannot ask for documentation and the owner does not need to “prove” their animal is, in fact, a service animal.

Q: Do service animals need to be leashed?

A: Service animals must be on a leash or harness unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the service animal through voice, signal, or other effective methods.

Q: Where can service animals go?

A: Service animals are allowed to be any place that the public is allowed, including the restroom. The owner must be with the service animal at all times. Service animals are not allowed on seats or tables or in grocery carts.