Individuals with disabilities that use service or support animals are allowed equal access to all City-sponsored programs, facilities, services, and activities.  For private businesses or establishments that sell or prepare food, the state law is unclear; while service dogs must be allowed anywhere, you may be denied access if you have a support animal of another species.

For more information on service and support animals, see The Mayor’s Office on Disability (External Link).

What is a service animal?

Under the newest ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations enacted March 15th 2011, a service animal is a dog (or in some rare cases, a miniature horse) trained to perform beneficial tasks directly related to an individual’s disability. Because there are so many helpful tasks performed by dogs, there are no specific legal definitions of a task.

In spite of the ADA changes, San Francisco is maintaining its broader interpretation of the laws.  Both the Fair Housing Amendments’ Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which cities are required to comply with, has a broader definition of service animal. With this broader definition, San Francisco’s current policy will remain in effect for most situations. This means:

You CAN bring your service or support animal (of any species) into:

  • City and County buildings, agencies and departments such as City Hall, Department of Public Health or the County Clerk.
  • Contracted agencies and programs such as public health clinics, case management or mental health services.
  • Public or private housing, including SROs, homeless shelters and residential treatment programs funded by or contracted with the City.

To read the SF Mayor’s Office on Disability statement regarding 2011 ADA Definition of Service Animals, click here (External Link).

Registering a service animal
Though service dog tags (or vests) are not required by the ADA or any California laws, they are a convenient and visible way for business owners, landlords and others to recognize a service animal.

The San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control issues California assistance tags for individuals who meet the following requirements:

  • Proof of San Francisco residency,  either ID or a utility bill.
  • The dog must have a current S.F. dog license.
  • A letter from a health care provider on letterhead confirming the dog is an assistance dog.

Applicants must come in person to sign an affidavit. Each person may have only one service dog. There is no cost for the assistance dog registration as long as the dog license is current.

What is a support animal?
Support animals are animals of ANY species that are not trained to perform a specific task, but their presence provides assistance to people with psychological disabilities. They help their guardians by reducing depression, anxiety, stress, and difficulties regarding social interactions.  A support animal that is not a dog (or miniature horse) is not eligible for a CA assistance (service) tag. For more information on laws related to housing and support animals, click here (External Link).

Do I need a service tag for my animal?
There is no legal requirement for you to carry a service tag for your animal. However, some people find it easier to access buildings and services by having a California assistance tag from Animal Care and Control which is available only for service dogs. You may, however, be asked two questions when in public:

  • Is this animal required because of a disability?
  • How does it assist you?

Service and support animals in the home

Service and support animals are just as important in the home as they are in public places.  There are several laws that protect the rights of people with support or service animals in their homes.

Federally, the Fair Housing Amendments Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require reasonable accommodations to provide an equal opportunity to use and enjoy one’s home. These federal laws are enforced by the Housing and Urban Development department (HUD). In California there are similar protections provided by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) which is enforced by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

For more information about service and support animals in housing, click here (External Link).

What are my responsibilities for my service or support animal?

Service and support animals must be focused on assisting the individual and not be disruptive or a threat to the public’s health and safety. This means that you must make sure that if you have a dog it is current on its vaccinations and you maintain a current rabies tag. Your service and support animal must be under your control at all times and maintain socially appropriate behavior.

Where am I allowed to bring my service/support animal?
Service dogs as defined under federal law are allowed in any public and private establishment. All service AND support animals are welcomed at any building, program, or agency of the City and County of San Francisco and its contractors.

For private businesses or establishments that sell or prepare food, the state law is unclear; you may be denied access if you have a support animal.

Who can I contact if I am denied access with my service/support animal?
If you are denied access at a City building, facility or program, please contact The Mayor’s Office on Disability by calling (415) 554-6789 or email at [email protected]

If you experience discrimination at a private business or restaurant, please contact the Human Rights Commission at (415) 252-2500 or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing at (800) 884-1684.


Related Links:
The Mayor’s Office on Disability – City and County of San Francisco (External Link)
PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) (External Link)