4. Service and Emotional Support Animals

A. Service Animals

It is the policy of the Mercer County Library System to allow service animals in its facilities, with the following distinctions:

Under New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all public accommodations, including libraries. Examples of work or tasks performed by a service animal include, but are not limited to:

  • guide or "seeing-eye" dogs who help people with visual impairments navigate safely
  • hearing dogs who alert those with hearing impairments to alarms, ringtones, and other important noises
  • seizure dogs, who alert their handlers of impending seizures
  • animals that perform manual tasks, such as pushing elevator buttons, pulling wheelchairs, and holding and retrieving items, and
  • psychiatric services animals, or social signal animals, which can interrupt self-destructive or dangerous behavior, alert users to the need to take medication, or diminish the effects of acute anxiety

The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. In some circumstances, a miniature horse who is individually trained also qualifies as a service animal under ADA. The work or task a service animal has been trained to provide must be trained to perform a task that is associated with the individual's disability.

New Jersey law recognizes physical, mental, developmental, and psychological disabilities, so a dog that is individually trained to assist with any of these disabilities should qualify as a service dog.

Only when the individual's disability or the task the animal is trained to perform is not obvious, staff may ask the following two precisely worded questions to determine whether or not an animal is a service animal: 

  1. Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What task or service is the animal trained to perform?

The law requires that the library take the individual at their word. People are not required to possess any certification or identification for a service animal. Service animals are not required to wear a vest or a badge. The law allows individuals to train their own dog, therefore documentation of training may not be accessible and cannot be required.

The New Jersey LAD requires public accommodations, including libraries, to allow people with disabilities who use service dogs, subject only to these conditions:

  • The person must keep the dog in his/her custody at all times
  • The person can be required to pay for any damage his/her dog causes
  • The person can't be charged an additional fee for having a service dog

The library system is committed to providing an inclusive public space, which means accommodations for people with service animals. Yet, the library is also responsible for maintaining safe spaces. Under the ADA, a service animal can be excluded from a public accommodation if it poses a direct threat to health and safety. For example, if the service dog is aggressively barking or snapping at other patrons, the facility can request that the dog be removed. This should be handled on a case by case basis, and the patron should still be welcomed to use the library without their animal.

B. Emotional Support Animals (ESA)

With regard to Emotional Support Animals, rather than being trained to perform certain tasks or actions, ESAs help with an owner's general mental health and wellbeing. These animals provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities or conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. More importantly, there is no provision in the ADA or New Jersey's service animal law that indicates that ESAs in spaces open to the public must be accommodated in the same manner as service dogs.

C. Library Policy

The Mercer County Library System bars all animals from library premises, but permits, as required by law, service animals. Service animals are defined as dogs or in some cases, miniature horses. The library will also permit service animals that are being trained to provide tasks to assist with a disability, and animals that are a part of a preapproved educational program sponsored by the library.

If it is not apparent to a staff member whether or not the patron in possession of an animals is a service animal they may ask two questions:

  1. Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What task or service is the animal trained to perform?

If the patron responds in the affirmative, staff must take the patron at their word. No documentation or paperwork need be presented, nor is the animal required to wear any identifying garment.

Service animals must remain in possession of the person at all times.

Only when a staff member reasonably believes that a service animal is a genuine disruption to other patrons or staff, or a threat to health and safety (for example, the dog is behaving aggressively by loudly barking or snapping, the dog is not in the possession of the owner, or the dog is not "house trained,") they may ask the owner to remove the animal from the facility.