Sentrim Boulevard Hotel Nairobi lobby
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Emotional Support Animal Bites Guest at Hotel: Who is Responsible?

What would you do if you were a guest at a hotel or resort property and an alleged emotional support dog — more specifically, a pit bull which clearly weighed greater than 40 pounds — bit you on the hand and caused it to bleed?

Emotional Support Animal Bites Guest at Hotel: Who is Responsible?

The pit bull was quarantined for ten days to verify that it did not have rabies as police and paramedics were involved in the incident which happened to FlyerTalk member deac83, who said that members of the staff of the hotel property — which was not specifically named at the time this article was written — “did jack squat around this, not even following up with me or offering me bandaides etc.”

Here is the entire story as told by deac83:

Walked into lobby after work. Hotel elevators are terrible. One opened as I walked up. Man with dog there waiting and he went into elevator with dog. Not really thinking about it and assuming some one with a ‘pet’ in a hotel has it under control, I followed to enter the elevator. The owner had the dog on a leash, When I was at the entrance the owner was facing away and the dog he was trying to control was facing me. The dog made a move for my leg, but got the pants. I started rethinking taking the elevator, but then the dog jumped at me and grabbed my hand and bit one of my fingers. After I found three puncture wounds with one deep enough to bleed. Owner did not see the dog bite me. I yelled when it happened and the owner got upset that I was yelling at the dog and told me to get out of the elevator (which I was doing anyway), I told him I was bitten and he just told me to get out. He went up in the elevator with the dog.

I went to the front desk and told them I was just bitten by a guest’s dog, who I assumed had just checked in. They said he checked in the day before and called security and his room.

He came back down, without the dog. Expressed no remorse or showed any concern about my injuries (maybe he didn’t want to admit liability).

Hotel called the police and paramedics.

Hotel staff did nothing for me until I asked for a bandage or something for the bleeding. They seemed completely unprepared to handle the situation.

Waited for paramedics and police. Police report documenting it. They told me the dog would be quarantined for 10 days (which I learned means the owner has to keep the dog with them for 10 days, no running around in the backyard without a leash etc). Owner has said it has shots and is sending those to the health department which has contacted me. Owner didn’t leave hotel until Friday so it will probably be Monday to have confirmation.

Hotel, zero response that night or next day. Never called me to check how I was. As I’ve said didn’t even offer to get me some bandaids (fortunately I carry them plus some antiseptic).

The only significance to the size of the animal is the hotel specifically states not pets over 40 lbs. By their own rules this animal should not have been in the hotel.

Hotel is in NJ, Owner is in PA and I’m in TX.

Even more appalling is that deac83 posted that “7 days after the biting incident, the owner has not sent the rabies certificate to the health department.” Fortunately, the Health Department called deac83 when they received a fax of a valid rabies certificate for the dog, so deac83 did not have to worry about being administered a course of expensive rabies shots.

The aforementioned discussion on FlyerTalk devolved into several debates — including who is ultimately liable for the incident; and whether dogs belong in hotels at all…

…and although the fact of the dog being an emotional support animal was alleged but never established or proven — it apparently was not an actual legitimate service dog — would that have changed the circumstances of this incident?

A Reminder of the Definitions of Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

The official definition of a service animalaccording to the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice of the United States pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA — is as follows:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

Additionally, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered — unless these devices interfere with the intended work of the service animal or the disability of the individual prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

An emotional support animal is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit to an individual designated with a disability — such as depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks or anxiety as only a few of many examples. While only dogs — and, in a separate provision which need not be discussed here, miniature horses — can be officially designated as service animals, emotional support animals can also be cats and other animals as prescribed by a physician or other medical professional if the owner of the animal has a verifiable disability in accordance with federal law of the United States.

In order to prevent discrimination by commercial airlines — based both within and outside of the United States — against passengers on the basis of physical or mental disability, the Air Carrier Access Act was passed by the Congress of the United States in 1986; and here are where complaints may be registered against an airline via the official Internet web site of the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement division of the Department of Transportation of the United States.

Employees of airlines are limited by law to the questions they are permitted to ask owners of animals brought aboard airplanes. Only two questions may be asked by employees of an airline — or of any other company, for that matter pertaining to service animals…

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
black dog matthew
Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

…and when the service an animal provides is not obvious, an employee of an airline or other company cannot do the following actions without violating federal law:

  • Ask about the nature of the disability of the person
  • Require medical documentation
  • Require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog; or
  • Ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task


I believe that this incident could have been handled better by both the owner of the dog and the members of the staff of the hotel property in question, as both demonstrated a lack of concern to the plight of deac83.

Whether that necessarily means that deac83 should file a lawsuit against either party is questionable. Did either party demonstrate negligence — the hotel property for having one of three elevators out of service and allowing a dog which was not covered by its official policy to stay there; and the dog owner for not acting in a more timely manner in addressing the experience of which deac83 suffered? Could this situation have been handled significantly better? Is the effort and loss of time — as well as the pain and suffering — experienced by deac83 warrant a lawsuit? Should the pit bull have been permitted to stay at the hotel property even though its stated policy is only animals which weigh up to 40 pounds are allowed to stay there — whether or not the animal was an emotional support dog?

Unlike airlines — which have blanket policies pertaining to the transportation of animals — the acceptance of animals in rooms with their owners is left up to the policies of the individual hotel or resort property. Some do not allow animals at all. Some are pet friendly and do not charge extra for animals to stay at their locations. Some charge a fee for pets with no fee charged for service animals.

People who travel with pets should do what they can to stay at hotel and resort properties which are pet friendly — but they should not attempt to pass off their pets as service animals solely for the purpose of saving money in what some people would call a fraudulent manner.

I have written extensively over the years pertaining to service dogs and emotional support animals in the form of articles posted here at The Gate — including:

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. In this situation, I would do everything in my power to see that the offending animal was DESTROYED by legal means. I would sue the owner, with my intent to have the animal destroyed clearly stated (in lieu of any monetary damage claims). I guarantee that the dog’s owner’s attorney would push him to accept this relatively low-cost option for restitution. I grew up in the Midwest and Northeast, and since moving to the West Coast, I can’t believe the freedom and latitude regularly given to dangerous dogs. I would relish a chance to make a resounding statement against them.

  2. Wow. While I get that this is a single instance, this is pretty demonstrative of exactly what’s wrong with the emotional support farce that’s overtaken our country. People just want their animals, no matter how vicious, destructive, or just plain ill behaved to be the exception. This must stop. A fairly simple solution would be to require a vet to certify any animal as an ES animal and place their license and a million dollar liability policy per episode that the animal is housebroken and safe with strangers in unusual situations. Very few vets would do such a thing under false pretenses which would go far to solving the problem.

  3. I think much of this is misguided. It shouldn’t matter if the hotel has a policy about animals or not. Sure they should have reacted and provided first aid, etc. They do own customers a safe environment but a pet policy does little to provide that. At the end of the day, the dog owner is the most at fault for not controlling their animal. It doesn’t matter if it is a pet, service dog or fake emotional support animal. The size of the dog doesn’t really matter that much other than the potential for injury or death. 40 pounds is just an arbitrary number. It’s not like the animal would have been safe at 39 points but unsafe at 41. It also could happen in a store, city park or anywhere really.

    If this happened to me I would consult with an attorney and have that expert determine if a claim needs to be made against the hotel and their insurance policy, the dog owner directly or both. I would also have tried to file charges with the local law enforcement authorities. against the dog owner for failing to control their animal. Hard to say what local laws are on the books about animals though.

  4. As usual, The Gate is on top of things here. Thanks for your coverage of this issue.

    That dude needs to find an ambulance chaser attorney asap. Between the hotel’s insurance and the owner he would send an incredible message to hotel management and the owner as well as hitting them in the pocket (which is the only thing that will get anyones attention).

    The key here is fee revenue. Hotels, as well as airlines, see people traveling with dogs as a huge ancillary revenue generator. The fees can be quite high. I don’t see anything changing here while the fees are in place.

    Keep in mind that it’s illegal to charge any fees for service animals so that won’t change that part of the equation.

  5. I love dogs but also believe that not all breeds have a temperament on the gentle side of the spectrum. Regardless, their owners are 100% responsible for the dog and for the dog’s actions. The owner was a jerk, his dog bit someone and first thing he should have done is assist the victim. I hope he gets his ass handed to him in court. Not impressed by how the hotel handled the situation, but also not surprised. Actual service animals aside, if people would just leave their pets at home, we’d be better off for it. Bring a stuffed dog if you need emotional support.

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