A Guide to Service Animals | Chicago Association of REALTORS®

There’s a lot of confusion and miscommunication about what constitutes a service animal, versus an emotional support or therapy animal. There are specific rules you can and cannot ask the owner, and only certain animals fall under each category.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” The dog in question must be trained for a specific action directly related to the person’s disability. Types of service dogs include: guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility dogs, medical alert dogs and psychiatric service dogs. The latter is the closest to Emotional Support category but is distinct because these dogs provide a specific, direct service to counteract or assist with the individual’s anxiety or PTSD. Per the Fair Housing Act, reasonable accommodations for service dogs must be granted as an exception to any housing “no pets” policy. Seeing as Service Dogs are the most popular, we’ll go more in depth regarding their regulations.


  • Ask if the dog is a service animal required for a disability. It can be any breed.
  • Ask what work or task the dog has been trained to perform.
  • Feel free to request that the animal be removed from the premises IF it is out of control and the handler does not take action to control it effectively or if it is not housebroken.


  • Ask for documentation of the dog. There is no mandatory registration for service animals.
  • Request a demonstration of the service task.
  • Ask about the nature of the disability.
  • Expect a specific ID or harness, because it is not required.

Service animals are limited to dogs, but a special section of the ADA permits miniature horses, provided they are house broken, under control, will not compromise legitimate safety requirements, and can be accommodated for their size, weight, and type. Miniature horses weigh anywhere between 55 and 100 pounds and can be 24 to 34 inches in height.


These are often called therapy, companion or comfort dogs. Yet to be included in the Fair Housing Act’s stipulations and exceptions, the animal’s service must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional. You may request documentation for an emotional support animal, and appropriate documentation would confirm if the individual has a disability and if the animal does provide emotional assistance or support. These animals can be other species besides dogs, but business owners are only required to make reasonable accommodations for emotional support dogs.
If you have determined that the dog in question is in fact a prescribed, licensed emotional support dog, it will be included in the FHA’s mandate, much like a service animal, that the dog be granted as an exception to any housing “no pets” policy.


Therapy dogs are not service dogs, because they provide comfort and companionship through sheer presence, which is not considered a specific task, nor are they prescribed by a license mental health professional. When entering facilities such as hospitals or schools, they are typically registered or certified by a Therapy Dog organization. Another distinction between therapy animals and emotional support and service animals is that therapy animals can be a greater variety of species besides dogs, including cats, rabbits, llamas, potbelly pigs and birds.

You can find more specific information about the provisions surrounding service animals at www.ADA.gov or via the Fair Housing Act.