There is controversy surrounding the roles of animals in the lives of people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. Many of us have seen the posts online about registering your animal as an emotional support animal with a small fee, and being able to keep your animal in a no pets allowed setting. This has led people to question the legitimacy of all service animals and their roles. A feeling of distrust among people who do not understand the difference between these animals, and the rights that accompany them, has been emerging as more people utilize these services.
Service Dogs are the most protected and trained of the 3 types of dogs. While many people refer to all 3 types as “service animals”, the official names for this type is Service Dog. These dogs are legally considered medical equipment and have a price tag to match, ranging from $10,000- $50,000. They are intensively trained for 1.5-2.5 years, having to pass a variety of tests to be serviceable including, but not limited to, opening cupboards, retrieving dropped objects, staying calm in public, etc.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Service Dogs are allowed anywhere their handler is, and cannot be turned away from an establishment or refused to go to work with their handler. DOT’s Air Carrier Access Act, and DOJ/HUD Fair Housing Act and Federal Rehabilitation Act cover other circumstances that the ADA doesn’t. While there is a difference between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals, there is a gray area for dogs that are used to calm anxiety attacks under ADA rules. Psychiatric Service Dogs are covered under the ADA only if they perform a specific action to avoid or lessen an attack. If they are just there for comfort then they are considered an Emotional Support Animal.
Therapy dogs are kind of the opposite side of the same coin as Service Dogs. Instead of offering physical aid to their handlers, they provide psychological or physiological therapy to others and are accompanied by a handler who doesn’t usually need their service. The best example of a therapy dog would be dogs that go to children’s hospitals to bring comfort, or dogs that work in school systems.
These animals, like the Service Dogs, require extensive training. Therapy dogs are also encouraged to be very social and interact with a variety of people, unlike Service Dogs who need to focus on their handler. Therapy dogs may be trained by anyone, but they need to meet standards to be certified. Therapy dogs do not have the same rights as service dogs, though many places will allow a therapy dog to accompany their owners, they are not required to by law.
The last type we are discussing are Emotional Support Animals. This one is the most vague and open-ended. An Emotional Support Animal does not have to have any special training and most of the time is registered by its owner because it brings comfort. Also, an Emotional Support Animal does not have to be a dog. These animals are not protected under the ADA and cannot accompany their owners in establishments where there are no animals allowed. Owners with a registered support animals can keep them in housing that otherwise does not allow pets according to the Fair Housing Act.