What is a service animal?

Service animals are not pets, they are working animals with a job to do.

Dogs are the most common service animal. Service animals receive special training to assist their human companion with various tasks related to a disability. They may also be referred to as assistance/helper animals or guide dogs.

Are there laws about service animals?

According to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act’s (AODA), one of two conditions must apply for your animal to be considered a service animal:

  • the animal is easily identifiable as relating to your disability (for example, it is wearing a vest or harness)
  • you can provide documentation from a regulated health professional confirming the animal is required due to a disability

You are allowed to bring your service animal into public areas and businesses unless another law prohibits the animal from entering. In cases where another law prohibits service animals from entering the premises, establishments must provide another way for you to access their goods, services or facilities.

Is a support animal different from a service animal?

Yes, according to the AODA, emotional support animals are not trained for specific tasks the way service animals are. An emotional support animal provides comfort and security to their human companion. This distinction is the reason emotional support animals currently do not qualify as service animals under the AODA.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) does list support animals under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) and your employer may have a duty to accommodate and permit you to bring your support animal. If this is your situation, it is important to note that “service animals for people with psychiatric disabilities or addictions do not have to be trained or certified by a recognized disability-related organization.”

Do I need to show proof I need my service animal when travelling?

The airline you are travelling with may ask you for proof that you need your service animal. Be prepared to explain that your animal provides medical or disability-related assistance and have additional information or medical documentation ready. If you have an assistance animal other than a dog, you may wish to contact the airline or travel company to ensure that it will accept the animal for travel.

If you are unable to present the information or documentation required, certain airlines have the right to deny your assistance animal travel. This is also true if the documentation you present is not provided by a regulated health professional or accredited trainer.

Air Travel Within Canada

According to the Office of the National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman, “in Canada, an aircraft with 30 or more seats is obligated under the Air Transportation Regulations to accept an assistance animal for carriage without charge. It does not matter whether you plan to travel in first, business or economy class. Air carriers are obligated to provide sufficient floor space to permit the assistance animal to remain on the floor at the person’s seat while ensuring that the person and the animal can travel safely and comfortably.”

Travel Outside of Canada

If you are travelling to an international destination you may want to contact the country’s local consulate or embassy to ask about:

  • Vaccination and documentation requirements for your service animal
  • Import and export regulations for service animals
  • Restrictions related to the type of animal
  • Quarantine requirements, especially if you are travelling to an island country

Understanding your Rights

According to the Ontario government website, “the AODA sets standards to identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility. However, it is not designed to address complaints if you feel that you have been discriminated against because you have a disability.

The Ontario Human Rights Code addresses discrimination, you may contact the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. They handle discrimination claims filed under the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

For More Information

  • Travelling with a Service Animal - Information about what you should do if you're travelling with a service animal. From the Canada Transportation Agency.
  • Take Charge of Your Travel - A Guide for Persons with Disabilities. From the Canada Transportation Agency.
  • Travel Tips for People with Special Needs - This is general information about planning your trip and what to do at the screening checkpoint, followed by specific information by special need. From the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.
  • Ontario Service Dogs Act 2016 - An Act respecting the rights of persons with disabilities who use service dogs. From the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
Last updated: March 31, 2021 4006482