Question of the Week


I’ve always enjoyed bringing my dog to “Pup Night” at PNC Park on Pittsburgh’s North Side. But I was taken aback when I saw a patient with a dog in the ED the other day. The ED staff took it all in stride and said they were fine with it by their service animal policy. What’s that all about?


It’s about federal rules for service animals and hospitals that come from the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), the controlling federal law.

Under the ADA, businesses (including hospitals) must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the business where customers are normally allowed to go. That means a service animal should generally be permitted in any area of the hospital that is unrestricted to inpatients, outpatients or visitors. The exceptions to that general rule are where the presence of the service animal would (i) require a fundamental alteration in the hospital’s policies or practices, or (ii) pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

A hospital may ask if an animal is a service animal but cannot require special ID cards or certifications for the animal. The hospital can ask the individual what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. That can be useful in determining the service animal’s full (or appropriately limited) role for assisting the patient in the hospital.

The hospital cannot ask about the patient’s disability. Not being able to ask the patient about his or her disability may at first seem rather counter intuitive. But that’s where asking what work or tasks the animal has been trained to perform becomes particularly useful.

The service animal is under the handler’s control, and the handler must be able to control the service animal. If the service animal is out of control and the animal’s handler does not take effective action to control it, the hospital can direct the service animal to be taken away.