Differences Between Emotional Support Animals, Service Dogs, and Therapy Dogs

Differences Between Emotional Support Animals, Service Dogs, and Therapy Dogs

There are three main types of animals that act to help people in some form: service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals. A lot of times, people become confused on the types and interchange the services that these animals provide. There are laws also governing where these animals can go. This article is meant to clarify the three types of animals and the different services that they provide.

Service Dogs

Simply put, a service dog performs a service for a person when that person physically cannot. They are available to help out somebody with a disability. They are not meant for companionship and are not really viewed as pets since their purpose serves a greater need for the person.

The Americans with Disabilities Act essentially has three requirements for a dog to be labeled as a service dog:

  • The person helped must have a life-limiting disability.
  • The dog must be trained to recognize and respond to the handler’s disability by doing either work or tasks.
  • Third, the dog must not cause public disturbances; otherwise, the dog can be legally excluded. Service dogs must be both housebroken and leashed (except when the dog needs to be off-leash to provide disability-related work or tasks).

Service dogs are usually allowed to accompany their owners into most places where the general public is allowed. Common places such as grocery stores and restaurants are places that allow service dogs. There are a couple things that stem from this. The owner of the service dog cannot be charged extra fees to engage in an activity any other individual without a pet would not be charged for. Dogs and their owners may be asked to leave if the dog in question becomes unruly or a disturbance. Owners of service dogs usually brandish clothing for the dog that tells businesses that the dog is there to perform a service due to physical disabilities.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals, referred to as ESAs, are not relegated to just the canine species, but can also include all types of animals such as cats, birds, horses. The ESA is not necessarily trained to perform any tasks. Although all animals may provide relief for their owners, ESAs are specifically prescribed to people with individuals with disabilities diagnosed by licensed psychiatrists or professional medical staffs. The purpose of the animal is thus to provide relief to their owner as a form of companion therapy.

Service dog laws do not apply to emotional support animals, so there may be more restrictions on where the ESA may be allowed. For the most part, ESAs are protected by law in important situations such as living and traveling with your pet.

The Fair Housing Act of 1988 states that a landlord has to provide reasonable accommodations for a tenant who has an ESA. This means that the tenant is protected against unlawful discrimination—like fees for owning the animal or having to dress the animal in a specific way for identification purposes—aimed at the owning of the ESA.

The Air Carrier Access Act gives protection for people who would like to travel by airplane by allowing the person to transport the emotional support animal in the cabin with them. There are a lot of the steps to take in order to be able to fly with your emotional support animal, but by law, a person would be protected from discrimination and extra fees if they wanted to take their ESA with them.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy Dogs have some things in common with the two other types of service animals. Like the Service dog, therapy dogs receive extensive training. Unlike service dogs, they serve completely different purposes as their responsibilities are to provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers, who are usually their owners. This means they are not considered pets to the person receiving the care as these dogs are brought in to a variety of locations, such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Sometimes, certain dogs will work in one location, but usually they travel from place to place performing their duties.

Therapy dogs do not have the same legal protection that service dogs either, since the pets are usually trained for other reasons that providing physical services to their owner.

Hopefully this guide gave some background to the three classifications of service animals and their duties.