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Service dogs

Service animals are dogs that are trained to help people with disabilities. They must be given access to VHA property when they accompany someone with a disability.

Service dog under wheelchair looking at camera

VA Palo Alto health care follows many similar standards as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA and its regulations concerning service animals do not apply to VA; however, VA's service animal policy is consistent with ADA regulations.

According to ADA regulation, 38 CFR 1.218(a)(11), a service animal is only a dog that is specially trained to help people with physical, sensory, or mental impairments, and not any other animal that just provides comfort or companionship. See below for more information on our service animal policy.

You can learn more about VA service dogs and the veterinary health benefits associated with them by visiting the service dog veterinary health benefit website.

Service animal policy

VHA allows service animals to accompany people with disabilities into all areas of VHA property while still providing a secure environment for patients, staff, visitors, and the animal. Service animals are subject to the same regulations governing public admission.

Learn more about our service animal policy below.

Allowing or denying a service animal access to VHA property

  • Service animals are dogs that have been trained to help someone with a disability and must always be granted access to VHA property when accompanying a person with a disability.
  • Any animal that is not a dog is not classified as a service animal and must be denied access to VHA property.
  • Only dogs that are trained to help someone with a disability are considered service animals and must be given access to VHA property. If a dog has not been trained or is still in training, it cannot enter VHA property.
  • To determine if a dog is a service animal, VHA staff cannot ask about a person's disability, require any medical documentation, or any specific identification card or training document for the dog. They also cannot ask the dog to demonstrate its abilities.

    If it is not clear that the dog is a service animal then staff can only ask the person 2 questions:
    1. Is your dog a service animal required because of a disability?
    2. What work or task has your dog been trained to do?

Responsibility for the service animal while on VHA property

  • VHA staff members may not provide care, supervision, or take responsibility for a service animal (other than their own) while it is on VHA property. This includes boarding or kenneling the animal. The handler or alternate handler of the service animal must always be responsible for the animal while it is on VHA property.
  • The service animal must be in a harness, on a leash, or always tethered and under the control of the handler or alternate handler while on VHA property. If the handler or alternate handler is unable due to a disability to use a harness, leash, or tether, or it will interfere with the safe and effective performance of tasks, then voice control, signals, or other effective methods can be used to keep the service animal under control.
  • When on VHA property, it is the responsibility of the handler or alternate handler to provide food, water, and elimination breaks for the service animal whenever needed. If the service animal eliminates its waste indoors or in another area on VHA property that requires the waste to be removed, the handler or alternate handler must remove it and the VHA facility's Environmental Management Service (EMS) must be notified to clean the area, as per the facility policy.

Removal of a service animal from VHA property

Service animals that are granted access to VHA property must be removed if they are not kept under control or behaving properly.

A service animal must be removed from VHA property if any of the following apply:

  • The service animal is not under the control of its handler or alternate handler. Examples of this would include running around the facility, not being accompanied by the handler or alternate handler, barking that isn't brought under immediate control, and jumping on people or furniture.
  • The service animal is not house-broken. A service animal must be trained to only use the outdoors to eliminate its waste and must not be allowed to do so inside in order to remain on VHA property.
  • The service animal poses a health or safety risk to patients, visitors, other animals, or staff. This will be decided through an individualized assessment based on objective signs that show the severity of the risk, like aggression (snapping, biting, growling, lunging), or signs of poor health (visible parasites, diarrhea, vomiting).

If you are interested in obtaining a service dog

Talk to your doctor and other members of your health care team to decide if a service dog can help you with your treatment and offer further benefits.

Other important information about service dogs

VA doesn't train service dogs, but your doctor can help you find a partner organization that does. You must get a service dog and training certificate from an accredited organization to qualify for a verification letter and/or request the assistance dog benefit from VA.