Taking Your Service Dog To Church

By: Joel Allen

Hello, folks! Years ago when Zues was with me, I attended a local church and would put his vest on him before taking him in for worship. Zues was my first Service Dog for Diabetic Alert and I always kept him close. Many people saw us at church and always seemed amazed at how well Zues behaved. If no one saw him, they would never know he was there at all. He always sat next to me on the floor and seemed to watch and listen to the congregation singing hymns. Zues always stayed calm even when church was dismissed. Of course, every now and again we met someone who feared dogs in the church. But Zues always had a calmness about him, and sometimes when those who feared dogs met him, I believe he changed their mindset with how he was. We never know the lives we touch.

Over the years I have been told of people who were refused access to church with their service dog. I used to believe that those of us with an SD could not be refused access to such areas until the ADA made it clear…okay, let us talk shop for a bit. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states: “Religious institutions and organizations are specifically exempt from the ADA.  However, there may be State laws that apply to religious organizations.”

Why am I bringing this subject up? Well, this past weekend Houston, my Great Dane service dog, and I went to church. Because of what the ADA says, I asked the preacher if I could bring him and I explained what he is used for. The preacher gave me permission, and Sunday we were in church singing hymns while Houston lay at my feet. The preacher even told the congregation we were there. Everyone seemed to love this and were very interested in Houston. LOL…Houston was very good but when church was over he was ready to leave! The preacher came and met with Houston and commented on how calm he was. This made me think of Zues and all those times we went to church together. We did have a great time, Houston and I. In the future, I hope to do this again.

As I have stated above through the quote of the ADA, churches do not have to allow a service dog. If anyone has an SD they use, they should seek permission before attending church. Something that I do and would recommend is that while asking for permission from the church leader, one should also explain what the service dog is used for. Be specific, and if anyone feels that their privacy might be exposed, they should ask the church leader not to disclose their disability. With that being said, I would not want to be part of a church that would refuse access to an SD. Also be mindful of those in church who have allergies. Please be kind and try to keep your SD away from those who are allergic. If we practice good diplomacy when we are visiting a church, then those who might come with an SD in the future may also enjoy these same privileges. That’s right! Having your SD at church is a privilege, not a right, so never forget that!

What can someone do if they are refused access with their service dog? Nothing really unless they sue, of course, and the likelihood of the court hearing the case is probably zero given the ADA law is clear about this subject. I always think of the saying, “Separation of Church and State”.

With that folks, I hope everyone has a safe September. Until next month…

By: Joel Allen