14 CALIFORNIA LODGING NEWS www.calodging.com Pets vs. Service Animals Protecting Your Business and Creating an Enjoyable Experience for All By Janet Wright, Director, Risk Management, SUITELIFE ® Underwriting Managers FOR SO MANY OF US, our pets are indeed part of the family. For some people with disabilities, their pets are more than just part of the family—they are service animals who enable them to live more independently and to enjoy life more fully. With many hotels now allowing guests to bring pets along for their stays, the line between pets and service animals can often be blurred, causing confusion and putting hoteliers at risk. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, which advises on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are often trained to assist people with walking, to pick up items for those who can’t, to alert a person with hearing loss or to protect a child with autism from wandering off, among other things. Hoteliers must offer accommodations to guests with service animals and offer the same accommodations as they would to any other guest. If they fail to do so, they could be found in violation of the ADA. Because hoteliers are limited in what they can request to determine whether an animal is a service animal or pet, hoteliers can find themselves at risk of turning away or charging extra fees for service animals. While avoidable, unfortunately these types of situations happen more frequently than they should. Just last year, the Quality Inn Mystic-Groton in Stonington, Conn., found this out the hard way when a guest was denied entry with a service animal to the hotel’s dining room to enjoy the complimentary breakfast. In May of 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut reached a settlement agreement with the hotel finding that it was not operating in compliance with the ADA. The ADA requires that all businesses, including hotels—in Connecticut, California or elsewhere across the country—allow individuals with disabilities to bring their service animals “in all areas of the place of public accommodation where members of the public, customers, patrons, or invitees are allowed to go.” In this case, the settlement called for the hotel to permit service animals in the areas defined above, including the dining room and awarded the guest $1,000. In addition, the settlement called for the hotel to post signage welcoming service animals and to implement and train staff on a service animal policy. There are ways that hoteliers can try to protect themselves against this kind of liability by carefully following ADA guidelines and ensuring that they are doing the best they can to offer the best experience to all their guests. Checking In Service Animals Check-in can be the hotel’s chance to make a first impression on the guest, and therefore it is imperative that reception is not only prepared to be friendly and accommodating but is also trained and knowledgeable in all rules and regulations, including those related to ADA compliance. Reviewing guidance provided by the Department of Justice is a good place to start when training employees to remain compliant with the ADA. The “We Welcome Service Animals” campaign launched by CHLA has also been a great tool for hoteliers and guests aimed at improving the guest experience for disabled persons traveling within California. The site provides useful tips to help hoteliers understand the guidance and ensure their guests, both two-legged and four-legged, are as comfortable as possible. Your insurance company, particularly if you work with an insurer that specializes in the hotel space, can be a resource as well. Insurers may be familiar with the space as they provide general liability insurance, which may protect the hotel against discrimination claims and more. When navigating the world of service animals versus pets, hoteliers should consider drafting and posting very clear and transparent communications. Hoteliers should also consider having their pet policies, including whether they allow emotional support animals (ESA), clearly outlined on their website and With many hotels now allowing guests to bring pets along for their stays, the line between pets and service animals can often be blurred, causing confusion and putting hoteliers at risk.