Service Animal Laws in Ontario
Service animals are animals, typically dogs, trained to help people with disabilities maintain independence. For example, they perform tasks, such as:
• Guiding a blind or visually impaired handler around obstacles
• Alerting a handler with diabetes about low blood sugar levels
• Protecting a handler with epilepsy during seizures
• Calming a handler with autism in an environment with too much sensory stimulation
• Retrieving out-of-reach objects for a handler with a physical disability
• Alerting a handler who is deaf or hard of hearing about sounds
All service providers that operate premises open to the public, or to third parties that serve the public, must welcome service animals. They must allow customers with disabilities to keep their service animals with them anywhere they need to go, except in places where the law excludes service animals.
There are two ways that service providers can tell whether or not a customer’s animal is a service animal:
- It is visibly apparent that the customer requires the animal for reasons relating to disability; or
- the customer provides an identification card, or a letter from a healthcare practitioner, confirming that the customer requires the animal for reasons relating to a disability
Service animals and support animals
Service animals have training to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. Emotional support animals provide comfort and security. However, they do not have training for specific tasks. Therefore, emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals under the AODA. Service providers are not required to allow support animals on their premises. Providers may ask for proof that a customer’s animal is a service animal, unless it is visibly obvious that the person has a disability and is relying on the animal. For instance, if a dog is clearly guiding a customer who is blind, providers should know without asking that this animal is a guide dog.
Limitations and exceptions
All service providers must welcome service animals, with a few food-related exceptions. Some places, such as food manufacturers, may be exempt from allowing service animals in certain areas. However, sometimes a customer who uses a service animal may want or need to access a location that the public can enter but where service animals are not legally permitted. In these instances, service providers must offer alternative accommodations so that the customer can access the service usually offered in that location. Providers may serve the customer in a location open to the animal. Alternatively, providers may serve the customer in the location where the animal is not allowed. In this situation, the animal may rest in a different area while a staff member performs the animal’s usual tasks.
Service providers who follow the above service animal laws are also showing their commitment to serving all customers.