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Most public venues in California must allow service dogs and psychiatric assistance dogs, but not emotional support animals.

California law enables people with disabilities to bring trained service dogs and psychiatric assistance dogs into all public venues, but not emotional support animals. Several California statutes define the rights of persons with disabilities who rely on animals for assistance. The Unruh Civil Rights Act, the California Disabled Persons Act (CDPA), and the Fair Employment and Housing Act are among these statutes (FEHA). (People who use service dogs and emotional support animals have their rights protected by federal disability rights statutes such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). See our page on federal law involving service animals for more details. When federal and state laws disagree, the one that provides more protection will usually take precedence.)

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When do California laws protect assistance animals?

Which California statute applies is determined by three factors: the kind of animal, how the animal assists the handicapped human, and the environment or location.

Defined Service Dog

According to California law, a “service dog” is a dog that has been trained to assist a particular person with a handicap with services such as retrieving lost things, modest protection work, rescue work, or pushing a wheelchair. There are two key points to remember concerning California’s definition of service dogs. First and foremost, it is restricted to dogs. (However, since the ADA allows miniature horses to be used as service animals in some restricted instances, California does as well.)

Second, it is restricted to dogs that have been trained to assist people with particular needs. As a result, no animal other than a dog may be designated as a service animal, even if it has been trained to aid a person with a handicap. Furthermore, if a dog is not specially trained to assist a person with a handicap, it will not qualify as a service dog (in a way that is related to his or her disability).

Defined “Psychiatric” Service Dog

There is no separate definition for “psychiatric service dog” in California, but a dog that is individually trained to help a person with a mental disability with specific requirements is considered a service dog, and an individual who uses such a dog has the same legal rights as someone with a physical disability who uses a service dog.

Work or duties that a service dog may be taught to conduct for a person with a mental handicap include:

awakening someone with severe depression and encouraging them out of bed at a certain time in the morning, reacting to an owner’s panic attack by beginning contact to console the individual, and notifying a person driving recklessly due to bipolar disorder.

Defined Emotional Support Animal

An “emotional support animal” is a dog or other animal that has not been taught to perform particular tasks relating to a person’s handicap. Instead, the animal’s friendship and presence provide the owner with a feeling of well-being, safety, or tranquility. Emotional support animals do not have to be dogs, although they may be.

How California Safeguards Service Dogs in Public Places

People who employ trained service dogs have full and equal access to public places under California law.

What Places Are Open to the Public?

The service dog guarantees in California apply to a greater variety of public venues than the ADA does, including:

medical facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices, and any public conveyance or method of transportation (motor vehicles, trains, buses, streetcars, and boats), whether private, public, franchised, licensed, or contractual.

Public venues must enable people with disabilities to bring their service dogs and, if required, alter their policies and procedures to accommodate the canines. Even if the trainer does not have a handicap, public locations must allow an approved trainer to bring in a service dog.

Can a public place’s operator require proof that an animal is a service dog?

A public location may only ask two questions to ascertain if a person’s dog is a service dog:

if the dog is necessary due to a handicap, and what task the dog has been taught to accomplish.

A person cannot be required to “prove” that their dog is a service dog in a public setting. A service dog is not needed to be registered, certified, or labeled as such. In California, however, misrepresenting to be the owner of a service dog is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine (and/or up to six months in jail).

What about zoos and wildlife preserves?

There are special laws in California governing the usage of assistance dogs in zoos or wild animal parks. In situations where animals are not isolated from the public by a physical barrier, such establishments are not obligated to admit assistance dogs. A zoo or park that does not allow service dogs in such areas, on the other hand, must offer free, clean, and safe kennel facilities. In certain cases, the establishment must additionally offer extra services, such as free transportation and sighted guides, to blind or visually impaired consumers and persons who depend on their service dog for mobility.

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