Ask the County Law Librarian – Dogs in Public Places

Q. I have been seeing an increasing number of people who take their dogs everywhere: cafes, restaurants, flights, bookstores, libraries. At first I thought only service dogs were allowed in these types of situations, but most of the dogs have nothing that identifies them as service animals, and some of them look too small to be of any help to the owners! Is this legal in California?

A. As with many other legal questions, the answer to this question is “it depends.” The laws and regulations regarding dogs in public places vary based on many factors, including federal and state laws and regulations, local ordinances, the businesses’ policies, and the dogs (and owners!) themselves.

If the dog is indeed a service or assistance animal, then the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California Civil Code Section 54.2 guarantees disabled owners and their dogs access to public places such as restaurants, stores, movie theaters, and libraries. Contrary to popular belief, service dogs are not required to wear any identifying equipment or tags, nor are their owners required to carry documentation of their status. In the same vein, owners or employees of public places are prohibited from inquiring about the owner’s disability or the dog’s training. If the dog’s purpose is not obvious, they are allowed to ask a) if the animal is required because of a disability and b) what tasks it is trained to perform. (28 C.F.R. § 36.302.) A public accommodation’s requirement to accept service animals is enforced by the Department of Justice. For information on this issue, go to

It’s not unheard of for people to take advantage of the above laws by claiming their dogs as service animals. Many businesses prefer to avoid confrontations or legal issues that might come with an inquiry and will look the other way if the occasional Yorkshire terrier or teacup Chihuahua accompanies its owner into the establishment; some businesses may be dog-friendly. If the dog is not a service animal, then other state laws and regulations, as well as local ordinances, come into play. For example, many state health codes have laws that prohibit animals from being in food service establishments due to possible contamination and public hygiene, and local ordinances have the authority to restrict animals from such places even if state law does not. It’s best to check both the state code and your local county and city codes for any such prohibitions. You can find these resources at your local public law library or on the Internet. To find the law library nearest you, go to

In other places, like theaters, malls, or small businesses, the issue is often dependent on the company’s policy or the owner’s personal preference. Before you visit an establishment, contact the owner to ask if they allow dogs (on a leash, of course). Websites like allow dog owners to scout out places that accept dogs, although keep in mind that some jurisdictions have enacted breed-specific laws. For more information on this topic and other dog-law issues, we suggest Every Dog’s Legal Guide: A Must-Have Book For Your Owner, published by Nolo Press. If you live in California, another helpful resource is Nolo’s Guide to California Law, specifically the chapter on dogs (pg. 171).

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian


  • Davi Rodrigues

    The culture of people who bring their “purse” dogs into the grocery store is not acceptable.

    • it is very acceptable. my little dogs are cleaner and more well mannered than half of the people that frequent the grocery store or other public establishments. people that frequent websites such as this to complain instead of converse about something that should be acceptable, and that doesn’t bother you directly should maybe get a “purse” dog of their own. it sounds like they could use a little love in their lives. what kind of culture are they from?

  • That is crap Bamplastic! Dogs are dogs, not humans no matter how twisted your thinking is. They are restricted from establishments for a reason. I am severely allergic, if their little slimy noses touch me, EVEN if it is “hypoallergenic”, I will break out in a rash. There are children that are afraid of dogs, etc… If YOU want a pet, keep it in YOUR home.

    • I so agree with you if that person does not have a disabltly like being blind where they need a seeing eye dog. Then no need at all for a person to have there pet in a public place that law needs to be band.

  • I wish it stop with people taking dogs into public places such as malls , all foods places, stores even in the nice restaurants its hard to eat at a really nice restaurant when you see a dog all over a wattling table where someone else is going to eat at next. Like a person likewise who has bad allergies and pays the price by all the sneezing and hard to breath and itch and water eyes do to my allergies by pets with hair to pet hair. I wish the pet law with people taking them into public places. Now I see if the person really needs the pet with them by a seeing eye dog put theses people have the dogs with them because they just can’t be without them cause the owner what’s to be out of the house . I wish it would stop


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