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Penn State University Libraries

Marion MacKinnon Adaptive Technology and Services


  • Adaptive Technology and Services
  • 113 Pattee Library, west
    University Park, PA 16802
  • Phone: 814-865-0284

Service Animals in Public Places

"Is it OK for a seeing eye dog or other service animal to be in the library?"
"How do I determine that an accompanying animal is providing assistance to a library visitor?"
“How, as public service providers, should we appropriately respond to these animals, and to their masters?”
"What if it is not a service animal, what do I do then?"

In response to these and other questions regarding animals being brought into the libraries, the following explanation summarizes information provided by the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, in their document “Service Animals in Public Places.”  An additional resource is Penn State University Administrative Policy AD66.

Service animals for people with disabilities are permitted, by law, to be brought into public places. In Pennsylvania, the law makes it a “summary offense for a public accommodation's owner, manager, or employee to deny access to the accommodation or its benefits to any person who uses a guide, signal or service dog or other aid animal that has been certified by a recognized authority to assist a person because of the physical disability, blindness, or deafness of the user."

In most cases the service animal is a dog, but it could also be a miniature horse. What is important to know about service animals is that the tasks that the animal performs must be “directly related to the individual’s disability.”  When inquiring of visitors with animals, the most important things to remember are:

  • Individuals with disabilities cannot be asked about the nature or extent of their disabilities.
  • Owners, managers, or staff of public spaces are permitted to ask only two questions to determine if the animal qualifies as a service animal:

1)  whether the animal is required because of a disability; and
2)  what work or task the animal has been trained to perform.

However, even these two inquiries may be inappropriate when it is obvious that an animal is trained to work for a person with a disability (e.g., when the dog is guiding a person who is blind or pulling a person's wheelchair).”

Please note that there is very little guidance about how a service animal should be identified. We might expect that anyone who has a service animal would have either a harness, or a coat, or a large badge around the animal’s neck identifying him/her as a service animal. However, there is no legal requirement that the owner must prominently display on the animal indications that it is employed to serve a person with a disability. This may be because some people do not want to necessarily draw attention to their disability.

As you can see, this is a balancing act between being legally compliant, ensuring public health and safety, and providing sensitive and good customer service.  Following is some guidance, based upon our own experience, about what to do when you see an animal in the library:

  • Do not ever touch a service animal. Sometimes it is obvious that the animal is working, for example, when it has a harness on. Even when the animal is at rest, it is working. Any distraction may put the animal’s master in harm’s way.
  • Do not immediately tell a patron that there are no dogs allowed. Ask the owner if the dog is a service animal, even if it seems obvious that it is not. An example of this is a dog in a buggy, which library personnel observed in Pattee and Paterno Libraries. When asked if it was a service animal, the owner replied that it was not.
  • Do not assume that the dog is not an assistance animal because the person does not look disabled.

If you have concerns, when a patron brings a dog into your service area, and there is not clear identifiable signage that the animal is a service animal, very politely ask the patron if the animal is a service dog. If the answer is yes, accept this answer, make no further comments about it, and say thank you and leave.

If the answer is no, but “I didn’t want to leave Fido in the hot car”, very politely say something like “I am very sorry, I do understand your situation, but non-service animals are not allowed in the library.” If the patron shows reluctance to comply, you may consider this disruptive behavior and follow procedures that you would normally follow for a violation of the Libraries' Code of Conduct.