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Animals on Campus

Cornell University complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and New York State (NYS) Human Rights Law in allowing and welcoming service animals on campus.  This website page offers information regarding what constitutes a service animal, service animal in training, an emotional support animal; the rights and responsibilities of the owner with a disability and/or trainer; and service animal access throughout campus, including within campus housing.

Information on:


Service Animals:

Definition:  The ADA, as amended in 2008, defines a service animal as:
“any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”

From: Department of Justice Revised ADA Regulations Implementing Title II and Title III, Federal Register, September 15, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 178).
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Registering a Service Animal: 

  • Students with service animals are not required to register with Student Disability Services (SDS). SDS maintains a voluntary Service Dog Registry to support students on campus who use service dogs by informing appropriate residential and facility staff of the animal’s presence, informing first responders, and to assist with situations in which the animal’s access is challenged by University community members.  The service animal, and their student handler, are expected to adhere to the rights and responsibilities outlined below.
  • Faculty and staff with service animals who wish to bring their animal to work need to engage in the reasonable accommodation request process with their supervisor/HR. 
  • Service animals accompanying visitors to campus are permitted access, under the ADA, and do not have to formally notify the campus of the animal’s presence.  Visitors and their service animals are expected to adhere to the rights and responsibilities outlined below. 
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Rights and Responsibilities of the Service Animal Owner/Handler:

To qualify for the use of a service animal on campus, an individual must:

  • Have a disability as defined by the ADA, AND the accompanying animal must be trained to do specific tasks for the qualified individual.
  • A service animal must be trained however it is not required to be licensed or certified by a state or local government or particular training program. 
  • A service animal is not legally required to have a special harness/collar, documentation of training, or identifying tags; it is expected to be under the student handler’s control at all times via a leash or tether, or verbal/signal commands if such devices interfere with its work or are not possible due to the student’s disability.
  • The handler must ensure the dog is behaving, under control, and not interfering with day to day operations and business of the campus community (i.e. not barking regularly) nor posing a threat to others (i.e. not growling or biting others).  Handlers whose animal does not behave appropriately are expected to cooperate if asked by University staff or faculty to remove the animal from that immediate environment. Instances of inappropriate behavior may result in a determination that the animal is no longer allowed on campus.  
  • There may situations in which the animal’s presence would fundamentally alter the nature of a particular service, program, or business of the University.  When these situations are identified, the handler and the University must work together to determine how best to maintain the learning environment while still appropriately accommodating the handler.
  • When not walking, the dog should be at the handler’s side or feet, or in their lap or a dog carrier.  Service animals are not allowed to be on furniture. 
  • The handler is responsible for complying with the Tompkins County/City of Ithaca dog control and licensing laws for animal rights and owner obligations, including ensuring the dog is current with immunizations and has a rabies vaccination tag. Documentation of vaccinations may be required by the University.
  • The handler is solely responsible for the care of the dog, including regular bathing and grooming, providing the dog food and water as needed, and removing or arranging for the prompt removal of the dog’s waste into appropriate waste receptacles.
  • If the presence of the service animal is creating an access issue for another resident or student with a disability (i.e. life limiting animal allergies), the handler is expected to work with SDS, and any other appropriate University offices as needed, to address the access concerns in a manner that allows both students to be appropriately accommodated.
  • Service animals are permitted access to all University buildings,
  • Service animals are permitted to reside within residential communities with their student owner/handler are expected to adhere to both the responsibilities outlined above and residential community standards and expectations. 
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Service Animals in Training:

NYS Human Rights Law defines a service animal as “any animal that has been trained or is being trained, by a qualified person, to aid or guide a person with a disability” and that “persons qualified to train dogs to aid and guide persons with a disability, while engaged in such training activities, shall have the same rights and privileges set forth for persons with a disability”. 

Dogs that are being raised for possible future use as service animals must adhere to the Pets on Campus Policy:

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Emotional Support Animals

As stated in the ADA definition of a service animal above, the provision of emotional support is not considered work or tasks; therefore ESAs are not afforded access and coverage under the ADA.  The Fair Housing Act (FHA), which covers residential communities on campus, does permit qualified individuals with disabilities to request a reasonable modification in housing “no pets” policies to allow them to have their ESA live with them. Therefore, students who wish to have an ESA live with them on campus, need to be approved for this accommodation by SDS.  Further information on ESAs, and the process for submitting a request for an ESA in housing, can be found at,

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University Community:

  • Must allow service animals to accompany their handlers at all times and everywhere on campus where the general public (if accompanying a visitor) or other students (if accompanying a student) are allowed, except for places where there is a health, environmental, or safety hazard. The appropriate way to ascertain that an animal is a service animal is to ask (only if it is not apparent) if the animal is required because of a disability and what tasks it has been trained to perform. Specific questions about the individual’s disability may not be asked.
  • Contact Student Disability Services if any questions or concerns arise relating to service animals.
  • Contact SDS if faculty/staff have any additional questions regarding visitors to campus who have service animals.
  • Report any service animals who misbehave or any handlers (or other individuals) who mistreat their service animals to the Cornell Police at 607-255-1111, or 911 from campus phones.
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Student Disability Services:

  • Is responsible to develop the necessary procedures for the university and facilitate the use of service animals by students on campus.
  • Assists the university community when questions or concerns arise relating to service animals on campus and seek legal advice when necessary.
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Concerns and Questions:

Student handlers, whether registered with SDS or not, who have questions or concerns about any matter or policy affecting their use of a service animal, emotional support animal, are invited to contact SDS at 607.254.4545 or

The information above is based guidance from the Department of Justice (DOJ).  For more information, please visit the DOJ’s Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA:

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Helpful Information

What are some basic etiquette rules when around service animals and their handlers?

  • Do NOT pet, touch or otherwise distract a service animal when it is working. Doing so may interfere with its ability to perform its duties.
  • Do NOT feed a service animal. Their work depends on a regular and consistent feeding regimen that the handler is responsible to maintain.
  • Do NOT attempt to separate the handler from the service animal.
  • Do NOT harass or deliberately startle a service animal.
  • Avoid initiating conversations about the student’s disability. Some people do not wish to discuss their disability.
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Under what circumstances can a service animal be asked to leave or not allowed participation on campus?

  • If a service animal is found by the university to be out of control and the animal’s handler does not take immediate and effective action to control it.
  • If the animal is not housebroken.
  • If a service animal is physically ill.
  • If the service animal is unreasonably dirty.
  • If a service animal attempts to enter a place on campus where the presence of a service animal causes danger to the safety of the handler or other students/member of campus.
  • If a service animal attempts to enter any place on campus where a service animal’s safety is compromised.
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What needs to happen if a service animal is behaving aggressively towards their handler or others, or if a handler or other students is behaving aggressively towards a service animal?

  • Report any service animals who misbehave or any handlers (or others) who mistreat their service animals to the Cornell Police at 607-255-1111 or 911 from campus phones.
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What if another student or a faculty or staff member has severe allergies around animal dander?

  • The final determination of how circumstances will rule out will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Please notify SDS at 607-254-4545 for further information if a situation of this nature occurs.
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What should a handler do if he/she has concerns about his or her ability to use a service animal to access campus facilities and programs?

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