Brookfield Zoo, also known as the Chicago Zoological Park, is one of the main zoos in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Located in the sprawling Chicago suburb of Brookfield, Illinois, Brookfield houses 2,300 animals across its 216 acres.
While there are some indoor areas, the bulk of the zoo is outdoors, replete with park-like walkways, gardens, and a large fountain.
The zoo’s setup may appear like the ideal place to bring a dog for the day, but dogs are not allowed at Brookfield Zoo.
The zoo expressly prohibits dogs in its online rules for guests, and dogs will be turned away by staff members at the entry gates.
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Since zoos are meant for animals, it’s fair to wonder why Brookfield Zoo does not allow dogs to enter the premises.
However, the reason is simple. Dogs are not allowed because even the best-behaved dogs can be unpredictable in public, especially when in the presence of animals they are not normally accustomed to seeing in everyday life.
It’s also important to note that the zoo animals themselves may act unpredictably or become stressed due to the presence of dogs.
Animals within the zoo typically are kept separate according to species, and the only ones that do share space are those that would normally interact in the wild.
However, zoo animals are able to see visitors through fences and vantage points, which means they would be able to see and hear dogs as well.
While the risk is small, there is also the possibility of dogs transmitting certain bacteria and illnesses to the zoo environment.
All visitors should read the Brookfield Zoo rules prior to visiting in order to know what to expect.
According to the zoo’s website, visitors are not allowed to leave dogs to wait outside, including inside cars in the parking lot.
The zoo has security for its paid parking areas, and they may call the police to report dogs that are left in cars. In the state of Illinois, it is illegal to leave any animal in a motor vehicle for prolonged periods during extreme heat and cold.
Service dogs are permitted at Brookfield Zoo as an exception to the no dogs rule. For example, guests with service dogs must alert a gate attendant upon their arrival, and they will then have to meet with security for special instructions that must be followed prior to entry and during the visit.
Brookfield specifically imposes the following rules for guests with service animals:
- If you notice a zoo animal becoming distressed or overly aggressive by the presence of your service animal, leave the area immediately.
- Be aware that access to certain areas may be restricted on the day of your visit due to specific zoo animal health concerns, such as recent births.
Any visitor with a service dog who is found in violation of the rules given to them may be asked to leave the zoo.
While Brookfield’s rules do not mention whether or not Emotional Support Animals, or ESA dogs, are allowed in as service dogs, national ADA laws do not include ESA animals as service animals.
It’s not just dogs that are prohibited from entry. No pets are allowed at Brookfield Zoo, either inside the zoo itself or anywhere on the premises (including in cars in the parking lot).
The zoo staff reserves the right to turn away any visitors at the gate if they are trying to enter with a pet of any kind.
One option for dog owners who are unable to leave their pets at home for the day is to use a “doggy daycare” service.
Brookfield, Illinois, has several doggy daycare centers that are within 15 miles of the zoo, and there are dozens more in the Chicago metropolitan area as a whole.
Brookfield Zoo is run by the Chicago Zoological Society and owned by the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
The Chicago Zoological Society is the organization that sets regulations for all visitors to abide by, and it has “no dog” rules in place at its other facilities and preserves that feature wildlife.
The Cook County Forest Preserve District has its headquarters in Lake Forest, Illinois, and counts Brookfield Zoo among its 70,000 acres of preserved areas.
Visitors still hoping to see dogs during their time at Brookfield Zoo are in luck when it comes to wild varieties.
The African painted dogs are a species of wild dog from the Savannah, noted for their colorful coats.
The zoo also has an exhibit featuring Mexican gray wolves.
Brookfield Zoo is one of two zoos in the Chicago metropolitan area, the other being Lincoln Park Zoo in Lincoln Park, a shoreline area within city limits.
Lincoln Park Zoo also does not allow dogs, though just like Brookfield trained service animals are the exception.
Chicago is also home to the Shedd Aquarium, which also does not permit dogs that are not service animals.
Brookfield is far from the only zoo in the United States that does not allow visitors to bring dogs with them.
The “no dogs” rule is widespread regardless of zoo size. As of 2022, there does not appear to be any zoo in the nation that allows dogs.
Like Brookfield, zoos do allow service dogs in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA law allows dogs that have been trained to help their owner with specific disability-related tasks.
This does not include ESA dogs, and crackdowns in recent years due to exploitation of ESA rules have resulted in ADA service animals becoming more clearly defined.
It appears to be extremely unlikely that people will be allowed to bring their dogs to zoos at some point in the future.
The rules are in place both for the safety of the dog (and their owner) and the animals themselves.
While it may seem unfair to dog lovers that they are not able to bring their pets into an outdoor venue, it’s just not worth it to zoo staff to take the unnecessary risk of allowing dogs to enter.
Zoos across the United States have not allowed dogs for decades due to the understanding that it could upset the zoo animals.
However, there are some more recent examples that help support this.
In 2016, for example, a group of domesticated dogs broke into a zoo in Baton Rouge and killed three monkeys.
A similar incident took place in 2010, in which 17 flamingoes died.
In a different situation, a Pittsburgh zoo was ordered in 2015 to stop using trained dogs as a means of handling their exhibited elephants.
According to reports, zookeepers would have the dogs stand aggressively between them and the elephants to keep them at bay, which caused the zoo animals unnecessary stress and agitation.