Texas Disability Law - Service Animals
Find information on key laws and resources for people with disabilities who use service animals living in Texas. This page provides information on both resources and contacts that can help when looking for service animal guidance in the state. Additionally, this page includes a summary of laws by topic that may impact people with disabilities who use service animals. This section is not intended to be used for legal advice.
On This Page:
- State and Federal Law
- Federal Law
- Texas Workforce Commission, Vocational Rehabilitation Inquiries
- Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division
- o (888( 452-4778
- U.S. Department of Justice
- 800-514-0301 (voice)
- 800-514-0383 (TTY)
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
- o 817-978-5600
- U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Aviation Consumer Protection Division
- o 202-366-4000
- Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA
- Service Dog Law Related to Veterans with PTSD (Texas Health and Safety Code section 437.0023)
- Watch explanation of Bootz's Law Video
State and Federal Law
Definitions (Texas Human Resources Code, Section 121.002)
- “Assistance animal” and “service animal” mean a canine that is specially trained or equipped to help a person with a disability and is used by the person.
- “Harass” means any conduct that:
- is directed at an assistance animal that impedes or interferes with, or is intended to impede or interfere with, the animal's performance of its duties; or
- places a person with a disability who is using an assistance animal, or a trainer who is training an assistance animal, in danger of injury.
NOTE: Though state law conflates the terms “service animal” and “assistance animal,” they should be considered as two separate categories of animals under federal law. Assistance animals may not always enjoy the same level of legal protection as service animals. Service animals are typically dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Some laws are not necessarily limited to dogs. It is important to know which definition will apply in any particular scenario.
Prohibited Discrimination (Texas Human Resources Code, Section 121.003 - 121.006)
- No common carrier, airplane, railroad train, motor bus, streetcar, boat, or other public conveyance or mode of transportation operating in the state may refuse as a passenger a person with a disability because of the disability, nor may a person with a disability be required to pay an additional fare because of their use of a service animal, wheelchair, crutches, or other device used to assist them in travel.
- No person with a disability may be denied admittance to any public facility in the state because of their disability. No person with a disability may be denied the use of a white cane, assistance animal, wheelchair, crutches, or other device of assistance.
- A person with a total or partial disability who has or obtains a service animal is entitled to full and equal access to all housing accommodations, and may not be required to pay extra compensation or make a deposit for the animal but is liable for damages done to the premises by the animal except for reasonable wear and tear.
- A service animal in training must not be denied admittance to any public facility when accompanied by an approved trainer.
- A person may not assault, harass, interfere with, kill, or injure in any way, or attempt to assault, harass, interfere with, kill, or injure in any way, an assistance animal.
- A person is not entitled to make demands or inquiries about the qualifications or certifications of a service animal for purposes of admittance to a public facility except to determine the basic type of assistance provided by the service animal to a person with a disability.
- If a person's disability is not readily apparent, for purposes of admittance to a public facility with a service animal, a staff member or manager of the facility may inquire about:
- whether the service animal is required because the person has a disability; and
- what type of work or task the service animal is trained to perform.
Penalties For and Damages Resulting from Discrimination
- A person, including a firm, association, corporation, or other public or private organization, or the agent of the person, who violates the above provisions, commits an offense. An offense is a misdemeanor punishable by:
- a fine of not more than $300; and
- 30 hours of community service for a governmental entity or nonprofit organization that primarily serves persons with disabilities or for another entity or organization at the discretion of the court, to be completed in one year.
- A person, including a firm, association, corporation, or other public or private organization, or the agent of the person, who violates the above provisions, have deprived a person with a disability of their civil liberties. If applicable, the person with a disability may maintain an action for damages in a court of competent jurisdiction, and there is a conclusive presumption of damages of at least $300 to the person with a disability.
Responsibilities of People with Disabilities
- A person with a disability who uses an assistance animal is liable for any damages done to the premises or facilities by the animal.
- A person with a disability who uses an assistance animal for assistance in travel or auditory awareness must keep the animal properly harnessed or leashed, and a person who is injured by the animal because they are not properly harnessed or leashed is entitled to maintain a cause of action for damages in a court of competent jurisdiction.
Penalties for Improper Use of Assistance Animals
- A person who uses a service animal with a harness or leash of the type commonly used by persons with disabilities who use trained animals to represent their animal is a specially trained service animal when training has not in fact been provided, is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction must be punished by:
- a fine of not more than $300; and
- 30 hours of community service to be performed for a governmental entity or nonprofit organization that primarily serves persons with disabilities, or for another entity or organization at the discretion of the court, to be completed in one year.
- A person who habitually abuses or neglects to feed or otherwise neglects to properly care for their assistance animal is subject to seizure of the animal.
Dissemination of Information Relating to Persons with Disabilities (Texas Human Resources Code Section 121.008)
- The comptroller, the secretary of state, and other state agencies that regularly mail forms or information to significant numbers of public facilities and businesses operating within the state must cooperate with the Texas Workforce Commission by sending information about service animal policy. The information, which is sent at the request of state agencies responsible for the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities and at least once each year, may be included in regular mailings or sent separately. If sent separately, the cost of mailing is borne by the state rehabilitation agency or agencies requesting the mailing and, regardless of whether sent separately or as part of a regular mailing, the cost of preparing information is borne by the state rehabilitation agency or agencies requesting distribution of this information.
State Employees (Texas Government Code, Section 661.910)
- A state employee with a disability is entitled to a leave of absence without a deduction in salary for the purpose of attending a training program to acquaint them with an assistance dog to be used by them.
- The leave of absence may not exceed 10 working days in a fiscal year.
Food Establishments (Texas Health and Safety Code, Section 437.023)
- A food service establishment, retail food store, or other entity may not deny a service animal admittance into an area of the establishment or store or of the physical space occupied by the entity that is open to customers and is not used to prepare food if:
- the service animal is accompanied and controlled by a person with a disability; or
- the service animal is in training and is accompanied and controlled by an approved trainer.
- If a service animal is accompanied by a person whose disability is not readily apparent, for purposes of admittance to a food service establishment, retail food store, or physical space occupied by another entity, a staff member of the establishment, store, or entity may only inquire about:
- whether the service animal is required because the person has a disability; and
- what type of work the service animal is trained to perform.
- “Service animal” in this context means a canine that is specially trained or equipped to help a person with a disability. An animal that provides only comfort or emotional support to a person is not a service animal. The tasks that a service animal may perform in order to help a person with a disability are directly related to the person's disability.
- Under the ADA, Title II and III, a service animal must be a dog (or miniature horse) that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Service animals can be professionally trained or trained by the handler themselves.
- Under Title II and Title III, a service animal handler does not need to provide certification for their service animal.
- Title I of the ADA, regarding employment, does not specifically address service animals in the workplace. Under Title I, a service animal may be a reasonable accommodation. As such, professional written verification may be requested by an employer when it is not obvious that the animal is a service animal.
- A comfort or emotional support animal is NOT trained. Comfort animals do not have rights under the ADA. For example, businesses do not have the legal obligation to admit a comfort animal if there is a “no pets” policy, as under the ADA these animals are in essence “pets.”
- Under the FHA, a person with a disability who is requesting an assistance animal must demonstrate a disability-related need for the animal, but there is no requirement that the animal be trained.
- Even if the assistance animal is a reasonable accommodation, the housing entity may not require certification to verify the assistance animal’s status as such.
- A property owner may request proof of the need for an assistance animal from a qualified professional or person in the position to know if the need for the assistance animal is not obvious. In addition, the documentation should indicate the benefit that the assistance animal provides. This documentation cannot be requested when the disability and need for the assistance animal is readily apparent.
- Under the FHA, housing entities must admit any type of “assistance animal,” a term which includes service animals as well as comfort animals or emotional support animals. In other words, training is not a requirement for an assistance animal.
- The FHA does not require an animal to be trained, or be in training, to serve as an assistance animal for a person with a disability living in multifamily housing. As such, service animals in-training could be allowed as a reasonable accommodation.
- The ACAA defines service animal as a dog (regardless of breed or size) trained to do work or perform tasks to assist a qualified individual with a disability, and may include psychiatric service dogs. Miniature horses are excluded in this definition.
- Airlines determine whether an animal is a service animal or a pet by requiring the passenger to provide:
- a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) form attesting to the animal’s health, behavior, and training, and
- a U. S. DOT form attesting that the animal can either not relieve itself or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner, if the animal will be on a flight that is 8 or more hours.
- Airlines can require service animal users to provide forms developed by DOT attesting to the dog’s health, behavior, and training to assist the airline in determining if the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. Other forms are prohibited.
- The ACAA does not address service animals in-training. So, airlines are not required to carry them as they do not meet the requirements of the ACAA-defined service animal. However, airlines are free to make their own individual policies with regards to carrying any pets, including service animals in-training, provided they comply with the Animal Welfare Act and are consistent with health and safety codes.
- Service animals are allowed access to a health care facility in accordance with the ADA, unless the presence of the animal creates a direct threat to other persons or a fundamental alteration in the nature of services.
- When a decision must be made regarding a service animal’s access to any particular area of a health-care facility, the service animal, patient, and health-care situation must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine whether significant risk of harm exists and whether reasonable modifications in policies and procedures will mitigate this risk.
- If a patient must be separated from their service animal while in the health-care facility, the facility must:
- ascertain from the person what arrangements have been made for supervision or care of the animal during this period of separation; and
- make appropriate arrangements to address the patient’s needs in the absence of the service animal.