Service Animals at Camp. Yes. And. But.

Catherine Hansen-Stamp and Charles R. Gregg
March 2019
Staff person petting dog - Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, MA

Camps, wanting to be inclusive but protective of their program and maintaining its quality for all campers, have inquired about their obligation, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to allow service dogs at camp. Are camps required to comply with the ADA? Is a camp required to allow a camper to bring a service dog to camp, and, if so, under what conditions? What if other campers are allergic to or afraid of dogs? Who is responsible, financially or otherwise, for the dog while it is at camp? Does the ADA requirement extend to an emotional support animal? Camps are asking these and many other questions.

I. ADA Application to Camps

In our Winter 2016 CampLine article "The Americans with Disabilities Act — Revisited,"1 we updated our readers on the ADA’s application to camps. We advised that the purpose of the ADA 2008 and 2010 amendments was to emphasize the intended broad and liberal interpretation of the ADA (to bring more persons, more easily, under the ADA’s protection).

We advised that most camps, unless they fall within an exclusion for religious organizations, must comply with the ADA.2 We also noted that many states have enacted companion state laws protecting individuals with disabilities. To be enforceable, these state laws must include protections to individuals with disabilities equal to or greater than those protections provided under the ADA, including with regard to service animals. Camps should understand these additional compliance requirements (if any) as well.3 As always, camps should consult with their legal counsel to confirm the ADA’s application to the camp and, if it applies, the ADA’s and any companion state law’s impact, considering the camp’s structure and operation.

Bottom line, the ADA prohibits qualifying organizations from discriminating against individuals with a disability — on the basis of that disability — in accessing employment, services, facilities, and activities provided by the organization. The ADA and accompanying regulations further require camps to make reasonable modifications to accommodate individuals with disabilities, including, under appropriate circumstances, allowing the individual to bring a service animal to camp.4

For context here, note that in many cases, the camp is considered a private entity and governed by ADA Title III.5 If the camp is run by a state or local government or related public entity (example: a city recreation center), the camp would be governed by Title II. The ADA requirements are similar under each Title, and identical with respect to a camp’s obligations regarding service animals. Note that Titles II and III address a camp’s obligation to its campers — not to its employees — regarding service animals. Title I governs an employer’s obligations to make accommodations for an employee with a disability — a similar but slightly different analysis (see V). Significantly, unlike ADA Titles II and III, ADA Title I and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations governing Title I contain no service animal restriction.6

II. What Is a Service Animal and What Are the ADA’s Requirements?

A camp is required to modify its policies to permit a camper with a disability to bring a service animal to camp, within certain parameters, discussed later in this article. As mentioned previously, allowing a camper with a disability to use a service animal is one type of "reasonable modification" to allow the camper access to the camp’s programs and services.

Service animals must be dogs (with one exception for miniature horses, as defined).7 Importantly, the work or tasks performed for the camper by the service animal must be directly related to the camper’s disability. A service dog (or a miniature pony, if that is the chosen service animal)8 is a dog "trained to perform tasks for an individual with disability — including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, or intellectual disability." Examples of tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision; alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing; providing nonviolent protection or rescue work; pulling a wheelchair; assisting an individual during a seizure; alerting individuals to the presence of allergens or a change in blood sugar levels; retrieving items; providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability; and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.9

In determining whether the animal qualifies as a service animal, the camp is allowed to ask only two questions:

  1. Is the animal required by the camper because of a disability?
  2. What work/task has the animal been trained to perform?

Note that an emotional support animal whose purpose is to provide comfort (that does not otherwise qualify as a service animal) is not considered a service animal.10

III. If a Camp Allows a Service Animal, What Are the Parameters?

The camper should be allowed to take the service animal in all areas of the facility/place where the public, program participants, etc., are allowed to go (absent the application of any legitimate limiting criteria discussed later in this article).11 The service animal is subject to local dog licensing and registration requirements and must be compliant with public health laws (required vaccinations, etc.), but need not be trained by a professional trainer. The camp cannot ask for or require proof of a service animal’s certification or licensing (as a service animal), and the animal is not required to wear a vest or other indicator verifying its status as a service animal.12

The service animal must be tethered (harness, leash, or other tether), unless, because of a disability, the handler is unable to use a tether, or a tether would interfere with the service animal’s safe and effective performance of the work. If tethering isn’t an option, the animal must be under voice control, hand signals, or other effective means.

Importantly, the camp cannot impose a "surcharge" or other fee for a camper who is accompanied by a service dog.13 However, if the camp normally charges campers/camper families for damages caused by the camper, a camp can charge for damages caused by the camper’s service animal. Damages, however, cannot include a cleaning charge for dander or hair left by the animal.14

The camp is not responsible for the care or supervision of the service animal. The handler is responsible for these tasks, including care, feeding, toileting, veterinary care, etc.15 If a camper is a young child, or otherwise unable to manage the task of "handling," the handler may be someone other than the camper. In that event, a camp’s obligations to provide, or pay for, assistance in handling and caring for the dog is less clear. Legal authority is scant, but consider the following: ADA regulations require a camp, in appropriate circumstances, to provide an interpreter for a deaf camper, as an auxiliary aid or service.16 Would a handler, then, fairly be considered such an aid or service? Perhaps not, for a handler is, essentially, a second aid or service (the dog being the first), and arguably adds to a camp’s financial and operations burden. A handler for the dog, then, may not be an accommodation expected of the camp, but rather the subject of discussions with the camper and family and perhaps some compromise regarding the cost and operations issues at hand. Note that the presence of a dog handler doesn’t clearly fall into the category of addressing the "personal needs" an individual with a disability, which are, by law, the individual’s (and not the camp’s) obligation.17 In any event, given the ADA’s intent for broad inclusion, it makes sense for the camp to find sensitive and sensible ways to make this work. Consider contacting your ADA regional center for guidance.18

The camp may ask the camper/camper family to remove the service animal from the camp premises if:

  • The animal is out of the handler’s control and the handler does not take action to control it;
  • The animal is not housebroken.

Note though, that if the animal is removed, the camper must be given the opportunity to continue to access the camp’s services or activities without the service animal present.19

Other, more general limitations applicable to service animals — broadly accepted in the ADA as grounds for limiting modifications for those with disabilities — include:

  • If the camp can demonstrate that allowing a service animal would "fundamentally alter the nature" of the goods, services, etc., offered by the camp20;
  • If the presence of the service animal would pose a "direct threat" to the safety or health of the camper or others21;
  • If allowance for the modification poses an "undue burden" (significant difficulty or expense) on a camp (although this factor isn’t mentioned in association with current writings on service animals, it is one of the three general ADA articulated limiting criteria).22

An organization is entitled to limit modifications, including the allowance of service animals, in light of legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation. However, "[s]afety requirements must be based on actual risks and not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities."23 Ideally, these criteria can be addressed in a camp’s Essential Eligibility Criteria (EEC) developed for its camp services and activities.24

IV. Factors Not Considered Legitimate for a Camp Wanting to Deny Service Dogs

A camp cannot justify denying a request for a service animal based on other campers’ or staff members’ fear of animals or existing allergies. The camp is directed to find a way to separate these individuals (particularly those with allergies) appropriately to accommodate these factors.25 If a camp has "no animals allowed" or "no pets allowed" signage on its property, the camp should update the signage to provide an exception for service animals.

V. What About an Employee? — Title I Differences

As previously mentioned, ADA Title I does not contain a similar restriction on employees with disabilities regarding service animals. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities in facilitating their ability to perform their job duties — which may include allowance for an employee to bring a service animal or simply an emotional support animal to the workplace.26 The analysis for considering a service or support animal as a "reasonable accommodation" under Title I is similar to that undertaken under Titles II and III (as mentioned previously), albeit in the context of an employee in the workplace. There are many constructive resources available for understanding an employer’s obligations. Consider calling your regional ADA Center for assistance and access this helpful resource: — and consider this article: "Emotional Support Animals in the WorkPlace: A Practical Approach" at

VI. Conclusion

Camps can’t and shouldn’t shy away from their obligations under the ADA to allow service or other animals at camp to assist campers or camp employees, in appropriate circumstances. Certainly, a posted "no pets" or "no animals" policy won’t fly in today’s pro-ADA and animal-inclusive culture. Understand your camp’s obligations, and take a proactive approach to these issues, before you hear dogs barking at the camp’s front gate. You will be glad you did. And again, revisit our 2016 ADA CampLine article for discussion of proactive ways to comply with the ADA, including helpful resources and ways to plan for, negotiate or mediate ADA issues and avoid litigation, (for example, the Department of Justice’s encouragement to mediate disputes at no cost to the parties).28

*This article contains general information only and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Camps and related organizations should consult with a licensed attorney regarding application of relevant state and federal law, as well as considerations regarding their specific business or operation.

Charles R. (Reb) Gregg is a practicing attorney in Houston, Texas, specializing in outdoor recreation matters and general litigation. He can be reached at 713-982-8415, or by email at;

Catherine Hansen-Stamp is a practicing attorney in Golden, Colorado. She consults with and advises camps and other recreation and adventure program providers on law, liability and risk management issues. She can be reached at 303-232-7049, or by email at;

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, MA.


1 CampLine Winter 2016 campline/americans-disabilities-act-revisited.
2 Id., see, generally, text and notes 1–8.
3 42 U.S.C. 12201(b).
4 ADA Introduction, 42 U.S.C. 12101; ADA Title I, 42 U.S.C. 12112; ADA Title II, 42 U.S.C. 12131(2); ADA Title III, 42 U.S.C. 12182(b)(2)(A)(ii); See also ADA Guidance and Department of Justice (DOJ) Q&A, respectively at: _ animals _ 2010.htm and regs2010/service _ animal _ qa.html.
5 ADA CampLine Article, supra, text and notes 5–6
6 42 U.S.C. 12111, et seq. and service-animals-booklet (section V.b); see also The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 re: covered federal employers or employers receiving federal financial assistance.
7 28 CFR 35.136; 28 CFR 36.302(c).
8 See, Definitions 28 CFR 35.104; 28 CFR 36.104.
9 Id.
10 Supra note 4 DOJ Q & A.
11 28 CFR 35.136(g);28 CFR 36.302(c)(7).
12 Supra note 4, link to DOJ Q & A.
13 28 CFR 36.306, and for a general discussion of these issues, supra note 1, text and notes 14–15.
14 28 CFR 35.136(h); 28 CFR 36.302(c)(8); supra note 4 DOJ Q&A.
15 28 CFR 35.136(e); 28 CFR 36.302(c)(5); see supra note 4 link to DOJ Q&A.
16 28 CFR 36.303(a).
17 See 28 CFR 36.306 and for a general discussion of these issues, supra note 1, text and notes 14–15.
18 Supra note 1., Sections IV. and V – providing case examples, tips and resources.
19 28 CFR 35.136(b)(1) and (2); 28 CFR 36.302(c)(2)(i) and (ii).
20 Supra note 4 DOJ Q & A; 28 CFR 35.130(b)(7)(ii); 28 CFR 36.302(a).
21 Supra note 4 DOJ Q & A; 28 CFR 35.139; 28 CFR 36.208.
22 See 28 CFR 36.104 (Title III regulations) for factors considered relevant in justifying the existence of an undue burden and _ 2010/ title _ ii _ primer.html (re: Title II undue burden analysis). See also, supra note 1, text and notes 21–22.
23 28 CFR 35.130(h); 28 CFR 36.301(h).
24 Supra note 1, text and notes 16, 18 and 19.
25 Supra note 4, link to ADA 2010 guidance.
26 See accommodation; and service-animals-booklet (section V.b)). Again, be cognizant of any companion state laws.
27 Supra note 1, Section V. containing a link to regional ADA centers. vol12iss04.cfm?cssearch=1965857 _ 1
28 Supra note 1, text and notes accompanying article Sections III, IV, and V.