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Having your pet around can be a comfort but what if you need it for more than that? Seeing-eye dogs are a common and accepted form of service animal, but they aren't the only one.
The Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes two categories of service animals. Service dogs, which are trained to help with physical, emotional, and mental disabilities, and assistance animals, which covers other animals trained to assist their owner.
The ADA requires private businesses to accommodate service animals if the business serves the public, such as a restaurant, hotel, or grocery store. You don't have to have any documentation but your service animal has to fit within the rules.
Under ADA rules, a service animal must meet certain criteria.
The animal must be for a person with a documented disability that 'substantially limits one or more major life activities', the animal must be trained to perform tasks that alleviate the disability, and the animal must not disturb others.
That means keeping it on a leash and making sure it is well-behaved and well-groomed.
So long as you meet the ADA requirements, your service dog should legally be allowed to accompany you without any other proof. Documentation is never necessary but it can help.
Some states, including California, also have a licensing requirement for service animals. Going through the process provides you with official paperwork that the animal is necessary for health reasons.
You don't have to show the license according to ADA rules, but it can help if management isn't keen to let your service animal stay.
In states that don't give out licenses, like Oregon, you may have to get more creative if you are worried about proof. Getting a note from a doctor can help although it's not necessary.
Service animal licenses aren't necessary and in some states they aren't available. But so long as your animal is well trained to assist with your disability, you and your companion are protected by the ADA.