People with dogs are seen everywhere. We love our animals and want to take them with us. From the big box store in the shopping cart, in tote bags, to restaurants, hotels and public transportation. The question is, are they really trained service animals?

Cats, ferrets, birds or other animals cannot help a disabled person by performing a task. These pets are clearly not service animals. We think of dogs such as Labradors or Golden Retrievers as being trained assistance dogs, but what if you saw someone with a tiny Chihuahua or a small Terrier mix? Would you automatically afford the person the same rights?

Most do not question the dog's presence if a person has a disability that is readily identified. For those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hearing problems, diabetes or cancer, it is more difficult to tell.

There is no set standard or identifying badge to prove that an animal is a trained assistance dog. You can look for a harness or bandana around the neck, but this does not guarantee a trained animal.

According to Assistance Dogs International, the needs of the person dictate the type of dog best suited to help the disabled owner.

"Small dogs will struggle to pick up and present objects in a suitable way, large dogs are hard to put under a table in a restaurant or out of the way on a bus or plane," the website states. "A good service dog is not protective, is people-orientated, not overly active, confident but not dominant or submissive."

Would a person with a dog that is not a trained service dog try and come into places where only trained therapy animals are allowed? The answer is yes.

Animal advocates consider their pets as emotional support and often will act as though they should have the same rights as a disabled person with a trained service animal. However, the "emotional support animal" (ESA) is not protected under the same laws as service animals.

As the hospitality professional, you are not obligated to allow an ESA into your property. Most likely they have not been trained, and some may exhibit aggressive behavior, leading to a lawsuit.

Trained service dogs should have a current rabies vaccination tag and be clean. If an animal does not have the tag or is unclean/smells, then it could be considered a public service threat. As hospitality professional, you can deny service in these cases.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows you to only ask the following two questions to determine if this is truly an assistance dog:

  1. Is this a service dog?
  2. What services does the dog perform?

As the hospitality professional, you cannot ask about the person's disability, even if he/she offers details. The ADA does not require certification of the dog, registration or identification. Asking for any of these would be considered a violation of the disabled person's rights.

Insuring access for the disabled is the law. Managing the person with an ESA can prove challenging. Hopefully, this article will provide guidance in the everyday challenges and what legally can be done.