Service Animals

Woman in a wheelchair with her service dog in the woods

Courtesy of Rocky Mountain Conservancy

In October 2018, the National Park Service (NPS) issued a policy memorandum regarding the use of service animals by persons with disabilities in national parks. The revised policy aligns the NPS policy with the standards established by the Department of Justice and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Dogs classified as service animals are individually trained to perform a specific task that assists a person with a disability. Service dogs are legally permitted anywhere that visitors can go. They must be allowed wherever visitors are allowed.

Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and 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. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Emotional support, therapy, and companion animals are not service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they have not been trained to provide a task directly related to a disability. Emotional support animals are considered to be a pet.

Service dogs-in-training are not service animals under ADA, but are considered pets. Pets must abide by the Individual Park Pet Regulations.

For more information about pets in parks, visit the National Park Pets website.

Entities covered by the ADA must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. The regulations set out four assessment factors to assist entities in determining whether miniature horses can be accommodated in their facility. The assessment factors are (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 not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility.

NPS policy defines a service animal as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The tasks performed by the animal must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Individuals with disabilities rely on their service animals to remain independent and safe. Service animals are not pets. For many individuals with disabilities, separation from a service animal has the same effect as having a wheelchair or communication device taken away. For others, separation from a service animal can put the individual in danger.

Service dogs are legally permitted anywhere that visitors can go. They must be allowed wherever visitors are allowed.

No. Provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship does not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of what is defined as a service animal in the NPS policy. Emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals can be any animal, not just a dog. The presence of these animals provides a calming effect for many people, but they do not qualify as service animals because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task. Therefore, a park can treat an emotional support animal as a pet in accordance with its pet policy.

A service dog must be trained to perform a specific task related to the disability of its handler.

Service dogs are allowed to go into areas where pets are prohibited because service dogs are not considered pets and consequently are not regulated as pets.

Many national parks allow dogs that are on leash and under control in designated areas such as trails, campgrounds, and other public areas. It’s always best to check with the park you plan to visit to learn where pets are and are not allowed. For more information about pets in parks, visit the Pets site.

Last updated: March 15, 2021