Zary Amirhosseini, MGH Disability Program manager, discusses hospital policies related to service animals with MGH Hotline.

What animals are considered service animals?

Any animal trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability is considered a service animal. Under current law, only dogs and–in limited circumstances–miniature horses, are legally considered service animals.

What kind of dogs are allowed at MGH?

Service dogs and dogs that are part of our MGH Pet Therapy Program.

What does a service dog do?

Service dogs guide people who are blind, alert people who are deaf, assist individuals with mobility issues by carrying bags or pulling wheelchairs, or remind people with mental illness to take prescribed medications. Some animals are trained to calm individuals with PTSD or traumatic brain injury or autistic individuals.

Where in the hospital can my dog accompany me?

Service animals are allowed to accompany individuals with disabilities to admission and discharge offices, inpatient and outpatient rooms, clinics and cafeterias. Service animals may not be able to accompany handlers to restricted areas such as ICUs, operating rooms, recovery rooms, or labor and birthing rooms.

Are staff allowed to question me about my dog?

Yes. Under the law, staff may ask you two questions: “Does your dog provide a service?” and “What is your service animal trained to do?” They may not ask about a person’s disability.

Can I bring my emotional-support or comfort dog to MGH?

No. Only service dogs and therapy dogs that are part of our Pet Therapy Program are allowed at the MGH. And remember, service animals are working and should not be petted. Distracting them could put their handlers at risk.

Are service animals required to wear identifying clothing?

No. Service animals are not required to any wear special vests or badges. If individuals misrepresent their dogs as service animals, that is punishable by law.

Do service animals have to be leashed?

Yes, unless being restrained interferes with tasks they are trained to perform.

For more information about the Service Animal Policy at the MGH, contact Amirhosseini at 617-643-7148. For questions about the Pet Therapy Program, contact Jackie Nolan, Volunteer Services director, at 617-724-1753. 

This article was originally published in the 03/22/19 Hotline issue.