skip to content
Primary navigation
A service dog sitting at the heals of an owner wearing rainbow socks and jeans.

Your Rights - Service Animals

Rights of People Who Use Service Animals

Service animals are important and sometimes essential to people with disabilities who needs them in their daily life. Service animals should not and may not be treated as other animals or pet. Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the rights and protections of service animal align with federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Read about a settlement agreement we reached with with an employer that refused to allow an employee to bring her service animal to work.

The Service Animal law

Businesses that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to enter with their service animal and to proceed into any area of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. The law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis, buses, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks and zoos.

Businesses may ask if an animal is a service animal and ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform. However, businesses may not ask (ADA guideline):

  • About the person's disability or require documentation of the disability,
  • That special identification cards for the service animal be produced
  • That the dog demonstrate its ability to perform work,
  • About the training that the service animal received, or
  • Require individuals with a service animal to use a specific entrance.

Can any animal be a service animal?

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities that are directly related to the person's disability. Service animals are working animals, not pets.

Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting or protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.

A dog whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support solely through their presence, as opposed to by performing a specific task, does not qualify as a service animal.


The Department of Justice issued guidance clarifying that a miniature horse (a horse in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders and generally weighing between 70 and 100 pounds) may also serve as a service animal under the ADA. Historically, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has relied on Department of Justice guidance in interpreting the MHRA. Individuals may choose a miniature horse as a service animal instead of a dog because of allergies, religious reasons or due to a horse's longer lifespan.

The Department of Justice guidance stated that entities must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. In determining whether to permit miniature horses, the entity should assess:

  1. whether the miniature horse is housebroken;
  2. whether the miniature horse is under the owner's control;
  3. whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse's type, size and weight; and
  4. whether the miniature horse's presence will compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of the facility.

The definition of service animal under the MHRA does not affect or limit the broader definition of "assistance animal" under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of "service animal" under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Service Animals & Emotional Support Animals in Public Accommodations

  • Service Animal: A service animal is a trained animal that can assist with a physical or emotional issue by performing specific tasks for the individual with a disability. Under the ADA and MHRA, a service animal is defined as a dog or miniature horse.
  • Emotional Support Animal: An emotional support may provide support, companionship, or comfort to an individual, but it is not specifically trained to perform tasks to assist an individual with a disability.
  • Place of Public Accommodation: The Minnesota Human Rights Act defines a Place of Public Accommodation as “a business, accommodation, refreshment, entertainment, recreation, or transportation facility of any kind, whether licensed or not, whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations are extended, offered, sold, or otherwise made available to the public.” (Minn. Stat. 363A.03 Subd. 34)

Access by service animals to places of public accommodation are generally protected under federal (Americans with Disabilities Act) and state (Minnesota Human Rights Act) laws.

  • This includes service animals trained to assist with disabilities that may be invisible, as well as more commonly thought of services like a guide animal for an individual who is blind.
  • Under state law, service animals in training have access to public accommodations. (Minn. Stat. 256C.02)

Emotional support animals do not have the same broad legal protections service animals do.

  • For public accommodations generally, like a movie theater or store, the establishment could allow an emotional support animal and may wish to as part of providing a welcoming environment for individuals with disabilities.
  • For housing and employment contexts, emotional support animals have additional possible protections. This document is limited to public accommodations.

There is one exception to this general rule about public accommodations for emotional support animals, when people fly on planes the federal Air Carrier Access Act provides specific allowances for access by emotional support animals.

Misrepresentation of a non-Service Animal as a Service Animal is illegal

Effective August 1, 2018, Minnesota law now makes it illegal for someone who knows that the animal they brought into a store, restaurant, or other place of public accommodation, is not a service animal if they misrepresent it as being a service animal. A person may not, directly or indirectly through statements or conduct, intentionally misrepresent an animal in that person's possession as a service animal in any place of public accommodation to obtain any rights or privileges available to a person who qualifies for a service animal under state or federal law knowing that the person is not entitled to those rights or privileges.

back to top