Some people with disabilities rely on trained service animals to assist them in everyday life. This will answer questions you may have about the role of the service animal, whether it should be permitted in the synagogue and who is responsible for the animal’s care and behavior.

1. What is a service animal?

A service animal is usually a dog that is specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Service animals perform some of the things that the individual with a disability cannot perform for himself or herself. The most familiar type of service animal is a dog who assists some people who are blind. Service animals are trained to assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities.

2. What does a service animal do?

Service animals can help people with a variety of needs. Dogs may be trained to:

  • Alert someone with diabetes when blood sugar reaches high or low levels.
  • Remind someone to take his or her medication.
  • Detect the onset of a seizure and help the person remain safe.
  • Alert people with hearing impairments to sounds such as doorbells.
  • Pull a wheelchair or pick up items for people with mobility impairments.

3. Should a service animal be permitted in the synagogue?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, public entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go. But synagogues are not covered under the ADA and are not required to permit service animals on the premises unless an event is open to the general public. However, a service animal makes it possible for someone with a disability to participate in services and other programs you provide. There are halachic considerations around service animals in the shul. Ask your local rabbi if you have concerns.

4. Can we feed, pet and otherwise care for a service animal?

Generally, no. A service animal is not a pet. Service animals are working and focused on the tasks they are trained to do for the person. The person with a disability is responsible for all care functions that the animal needs, including feeding and toileting. Always ask permission before petting the animal. When a dog is “off-duty” it is usually not wearing its halter or service leash, but again, always ask the person if you can touch or speak to the animal.

5. What if a service animal is disruptive?

The dog must be under control of the person at all times and should be responsive to that person’s commands. If a dog barks or wanders around or is otherwise disruptive and the person does not stop the behavior, you may request that the animal be removed. The service animal must be harnessed and/or leashed at all times.