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Service Dogs and Car Rental

A recent rental involving a service animal points out the need for car rental companies to know the rights of service dog owners — and the rights of the rental company as well.

September 13, 2013, by - Also by this author

I rode into work earlier this week listening to a radio show discussion centered on dogs that are being passed off as service dogs to accompany their owners in public places. The discussion I’m sure was based on this New York Post article profiling a guy who bought a phony guide dog patch off the Internet to get his dog into shops and restaurants. Doing a little digging, I found many online companies that sell dog harness kits and patches. This particular company requires a photo of your dog, but does not require a certificate of dog training or proof of disability to buy its products.

Coincidentally, I got an email from Petti Riley, who manages the Dollar Rent-A-Car in Jackson, Wyo.

“More and more people are traveling with their pets and they don’t use pet carriers,” wrote Riley. She wrote that she had just rented to a woman with a large service dog. She politely asked if the renter could use a pet carrier. The renter refused; moreover she told her it is illegal to charge for cleanup if the service dog creates a mess in the car. “Cleanup is difficult,” she wrote. “The [next] customer ends up hating you and just does not see or want to see all the dog hair left behind. It really makes for a delicate situation. In consideration of our next customers, you would expect customers to be more considerate. What are other agencies doing?”

Let’s assume that in Riley’s case, the dog was in fact a real service dog. Nonetheless, Riley reports an increase in service dogs — and dogs in general — accompanying renters.

“Local people have been the biggest abusers, insurance replacement rentals when the customer is the claimant,” wrote Riley, who is a dog owner herself. “We’ve had seat belts chewed through, rearview mirrors chewed up and we have had the front bumper of a Toyota Yaris look like a chew stick (it was parked in the renter’s garage). … The body shop that did the repairs said it happens all the time.”

I reached out to Leslie Pujo of LaPlaca Pujo for a legal perspective.

“Although rental companies are required to waive ‘no pet’ or pet-deposit policies, the ADA’s guidelines [based on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990] on service animals expressly permits a company to charge for damages caused by a service animal, as long as the company normally charges for pet damage,” Pujo responded.

Pujo provided an excerpt from her summary of ADA for rental companies, which includes a link to the ADA’s summary:

Service Animals. If a disabled customer uses a service animal, the Rental Company must make certain accommodations. A “service animal” is a dog that is trained to perform tasks on behalf of persons with disabilities. If a customer has a service animal, the following rules apply:
(1)    Employees may ask only two questions: (a) Is the dog a service animal? and (b) What service does the dog perform? Employees may not request documentation to prove that the animal is a service animal or require a demonstration of the dog’s services.
(2)    Allergies or fear of animals is not a reason to deny access to the Rental Company office or refuse a rental.
(3)    A Rental Company may not ask a customer to remove a service animal from the premises, unless the animal is out of control or not housebroken.
(4)    If the Rental Company normally charges a pet deposit, that deposit must be waived for service animals.
(5)    The Rental Company may charge the renter for damage to the rental agency or rental vehicle caused by the service animal.

(See Service Animals, available at

With this recent press, disabled owners with legitimate service dogs are being hassled and questioned unnecessarily. Nonetheless, with the increasing preponderance of service dogs, rental companies need to know the rights of the dog owner as well as the rights of the renter.

This pamphlet, issued by the State of Missouri with information from the U.S. Department of Justice, gives best practices on businesses dealing with guide dogs. It is important to note that “therapy,” “emotional support” and “companion” dogs are not federally protected, which means they do not have legally afforded public access privileges.

How have other rental companies dealt with this situation?


  1. 1. Ethan [ September 19, 2013 @ 05:25AM ]

    The ADA stipulations say you can charge for damages but don't mention cleanup. Whats the official word on cleaning fees for service dogs?

  2. 2. Chris Brown [ September 19, 2013 @ 08:43AM ]

    Hi Ethan, the ADA’s guidelines expressly permit a company to charge for damages caused by a service animal, as long as the company normally charges for pet damage.

  3. 3. Maryann [ March 04, 2014 @ 06:17PM ]

    Had the car for one day. Got the call from the rental company that they need to talk about the car smelling like a dog. The dog had had a bath Monday morning. I rented the car on Monday, drove it about 35-40 miles, and returned it on Tuesday morning. Need to figure out how to deal with this. Maryann

  4. 4. Kymberly [ February 12, 2015 @ 06:46PM ]

    Maryann it has almost been a year what was your outcome of the car rental and the charge because it smelt like dog?

  5. 5. Kristin [ July 26, 2015 @ 04:13PM ]

    What a great article. As a new service dog owner, I am doubly conscious of our service animal being clean and as model a citizen as he can be in order to help protect our rights. What if the car companies supplied seat protectors to minimize the dog hair issue? I use one for our personal vehicle, and it really helps. After all, it's impossible to tell a dog to not shed. Even a carrier isn't going to prevent dog hair from straying onto carpet. For the dog bath issue, I understand the problem. Using a dog cologne helps, if you're the dog owner. Using a Febreeze car freshener helped dramatically for us to keep the car smelling nice. Simple. As for a smell being damage, what about smokers? Poopy babies? Mouldy food? Damage from child car seats? Crumbs or liquid spills from kids eating in the car? Any of these things could happen. Cleaning a car should be basic maintenance. If the company is looking for ways to minimize how intensive the cleaning is, I think seat protectors and air fresheners aren't an unreasonable thing for them to invest in. As for allergies, that's such a broad thing, you couldn't possibly eliminate all the possible things a person might have a reaction to.

  6. 6. leo [ February 02, 2016 @ 05:44PM ]

    we just had almost the same issue with our service dog and we were not told by anyone about a car carry or we would of made sure she was in one. are dog just left a little bit of hair on the back seat.

  7. 7. Bob [ February 17, 2016 @ 01:32PM ]

    Rental companies who charge for vacuuming a little dog hair out of the car should go shove forks so far up their asses that they puncture their miserable brains. The previous commenter who noted odors from infinite other sources is spot on, and the author of this article is an idiot who will hopefully die alone, blinded and having seizures with diabetes and suffering from all the other conditions that legitimate service dogs assist with. What a shmuck!

  8. 8. Nancy hines [ March 18, 2016 @ 07:01PM ]

    Car rental companies have us over a barrel our dog is professionally trained has a letter from the trainer and from the dr. Dollar car rental just charged us 195.00 for pet damages. The car was vacuumed thoroughly before we took it back and cleaned out no easy feat with disabilities. The only "damage" was wet paw prints on the seat as we let the dog out in the rain to do his business before a 3.5 hour flight. I wrote the Ada and they didn't have time to deal with it and gave me names of attorneys. Dollar sent us to a collection agency and were very unhelpful so the law has loopholes and traveling to our dr requires airplanes and car rental

  9. 9. Laura [ May 17, 2016 @ 09:38PM ]

    Rental car agencies can charge for damages. A damage requires repair or replacement. Vacuuming dog fur does not require repair or replacement so any rental car agency that charges to clean up dog fur is violating the ADA

  10. 10. Roger Smith [ September 04, 2017 @ 11:02PM ]

    Really enjoyed reading this blog and very helpful information.

  11. 11. AL ALEX [ November 07, 2017 @ 11:40AM ]

    Yes agreed, rental car operators should be considerate and helpful to service dogs owners. ADA has made it clear that no questions should be further asked. The Service dog owners also has responsibility just like any other renter to take responsibility for any damage done to the rental car including but not limited to interior damage or down time and cleaning fees / detailing fees that the rental operators incur to get the car re-rented again. Service dog owners do understand that the rental car owners make a living but earning on the rental cars and if that ability is adversely effected due to inability to rent the car after the service dog creates a situation where the car cannot be re-rented in normal course of business then ADA allows and it is every right of the rental operators to collect the damages ($ amount) which can be documented immediately after the fact when the rental is returned. Hope this makes sense to everyone.

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Author Bio

Chris Brown

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Executive Editor

Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.

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