Business Owners and Service Animals

Business Owners and Service Animals

In Frederick, Maryland, where I live, there are a number of downtown shops that are dog friendly, assuming the animal is well behaved and leashed. Not all businesses are dog friendly, but many are. In fact, my office away from the office, Cowork Frederick, has two house dogs present.

However, service dogs are a whole other matter. But for business owners, particularly those who operate retail or restaurant establishments, there maybe questions as to whether the dog in question is a service animal or a pet.

Findlaw’s Free Enterprise Blog has a great piece about service animals and what business owners can do regarding these animals. Generally, pets can be barred, but service dogs cannot be barred from a public place.

A blanket “no dogs allowed” policy is likely to find a business owner in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Maryland law on Service Animals states that a person with a service animal cannot be barred from entering a public place with a service animal. A person with a service animal cannot be charged more, although the person may be held liable for damages to the premises if the animal misbehaves. Violation of this law is a misdemeanor and carries a fine of $500.

Similarly, a service animal trainer with an animal that is being trained cannot be denied access, unless the animal presents a danger to the public.

But, as Free Enterprise notes, how is a business owner supposed to know if the animal is a pet or a service dog? Well the best way is to follow the guidance of the, as Free Enterprise notes.

However, according to, a business owner may ask a service dog holder two questions:

  1. Whether the service dog is necessary because of a disability, and

  2. What work or task(s) the dog has been trained to perform.

That is it. A business owner may not even ask what kind of disability the person has.

What happens if the animal is unruly or unleashed? Well, the business owner does not have to allow the dog to remain. A dog that is unleashed, poses a threat to other patrons (growling or snapping at other patrons, or urinates/defecates in the establishment, may be ejected from the facility. However, the business owner should bear in mind, you can’t then bar the animal based on one ejection or even multiple ejections. Doing so here in Maryland puts you in jeopardy of both federal ADA suits and Maryland penalties.

Surprisingly, this is one area of the law where a little common sense, and healthy dose of common courtesy, will go a long way.