Service, Emotional Support and Therapy Animals

Learn the difference between service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs, and where you can take them under U.S. law.

Service Animals

Emotional Support Animals

Therapy Animals

Your questions are most welcome!

Peter Christensen
Peter@ServiceDogFacts.com

Service Animals

Click above and print the fact sheet two-sided as a convenient handout

A service animal performs tasks to assist a person with a disability, and the person generally has the right to be accompanied by their service animal anywhere the general public is allowed.

To qualify as a service animal, the task(s) performed by the animal must be directly related to the person's disability. It follows then that the person would need to take their animal with them wherever they go, just as they might need to take a cane or walker with them.


Species of Service Animals

Only dogs, and miniature horses meeting certain criteria, can serve as service animals. For reference see the Overview and Miniature Horses topics on this page:  ADA Requirements

Miniature horses make excellent Guide Horses and offer the advantage of having longer lifespans than dogs. They may also better serve a person who is allergic to dogs.


Types of Service Animals

Because service animals are trained to assist a person who has a disability, they are also known as assistance animals or by names associated with their tasks. Some examples are:

Guide Dog or Guide Horse:  Guides a person who is blind or visually impaired.

Hearing Dog:  Alerts a person who is deaf or hearing impaired to sounds such as doorbells, smoke alarms, and alarm clocks.

Mobility Dog:  Assists a person in performing tasks such as opening doors, picking up objects and pulling wheelchairs; provides stability to a person with the aid of a special harness.

Medical Alert Dog:  Notifies a person of a change in body chemistry that may indicate a health concern, such as low or high blood sugar for a person with diabetes, or that a seizure is imminent for a person with epilepsy.

Psychiatric Service Dog:  Assists a person with a psychiatric disorder such as anxiety or PTSD.

It is an important distinction of a psychiatric service dog that it perform a specific task to assist its person (as is the case with all service animals) rather than simply being valued for its calming presence.

Some examples:

1. A person suffers from PTSD and is prone to nightmares, and their service dog is trained to wake them from their nightmares.

2. A person suffers from PTSD and is not comfortable venturing alone into public places, and their service dog is trained to move in and stand as a barrier between them and anyone who approaches.

3. A person occasionally does something unconsciously which physically harms themselves, such as pulling or picking at something, and their service dog is trained to alert them to their actions.

In each of these examples if the dog was not trained to perform the task described, and it was simply its calming presence that kept the person from having nightmares, helped them feel comfortable venturing into public places, or kept them from harming themselves, it would not qualify as a service animal.


Training, Certification, Registration, Documentation, ID Cards and Vests

A person may train their service animal themselves, and there is no requirement that they be associated with a service animal organization, that the animal be certified or registered, or that they present any form of documentation including ID cards and vests.

However, there are many wonderful organizations that help people who can benefit from owning a service animal. These organizations provide the training necessary for the animal to perform tasks to assist the person with their disability, as well as the training necessary to ensure that their animal will be well-behaved in public.

Such organizations often provide ID cards and vests, which can be helpful because most people are not familiar with the laws pertaining to service animals and are accepting of something looking official. Sadly, this plays into the hands of those committing fraud, who purchase ID cards and vests to impersonate service animals.


Where You Can Take Your Service Animal

Businesses:  In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person with a disability generally has the right to be accompanied by their service animal anywhere the general public is allowed. However, a business may ask that the animal be removed from the premises if it is eliminating indoors, out of control (e.g., barking in a movie theater or begging food from patrons in a restaurant), or posing a threat to the health or safety of others.

A person taking a so-called “comfort dog” into a supermarket because they don’t want to leave it in their car is committing service animal fraud. And putting it in their shopping cart where food goes is both unsanitary and inconsiderate to others, and the business may ask them to remove it from the shopping cart.

A business may only ask two questions of a person bringing an animal onto their premises:

1. Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability?

2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

The business may not ask the person about their disability, nor ask that the animal demonstrate its task.

You'll find a good overview of the subject of service animals and businesses here:  Service Animals

Hotels, Motels and Camps:  Hotels, motels and camps are treated as businesses. They may not charge a deposit or surcharge for a service animal even if such charges are routinely charged for pets. However, a business which normally charges guests for the damage they cause may charge for damage caused by a service animal.

Housing with Pet Restrictions:  The Fair Housing Act (FHAct) allows that a person may keep a service animal in housing with a "no pets" policy, or size or weight restrictions. Note, however, that it only requires that housing providers make reasonable accommodations for persons with service animals.

The Fair Housing Act applies to a facility in which a person lives, including its common areas. It does not apply to hotels, motels, camps and other facilities lodging transient guests, which are treated as businesses.

Airplanes:  The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows that a service animal may travel with its owner on an airplane. Follow the link and watch the video, and note that documentation may be required for psychiatric service animals.

Google the name of your airline and "service animal" for additional information.


Approaching Service Animals and Their Owners

You may hear that you should not speak to a service animal because it is rude to its owner, as if you were talking to their wheelchair. But we love it when people give attention to our animals, and the owners of service animals feel the same way.

However, there are some important considerations concerning our approach to service animals and their owners:

Approaching the Animal:  When we encounter a service animal in public, we should assume that it is "working," performing its function in assisting its owner. Often service animals wear signs asking us not to disturb them while they are working.

It is therefore important to ask permission before we give attention to a service animal. Which is, of course, the courteous and safe way to approach any animal.

Approaching the Owner:  When we're out with our animals, it's usually for relatively brief periods of time. And they all add up to only a small part of our day.

A person with a service animal, on the other hand, has their animal with them virtually all throughout their day. This could include their commute to work, their workday at the office, running errands at lunchtime, and rushing around the mall doing last minute shopping.

In educating others about service animals, we can point this out and suggest that they be very considerate in deciding when to speak to a person with a service animal. It's not that they wouldn't love to chat with us; it's that there are just too many of us and they need time to live their lives.

If you are an outgoing person, you will be speaking to those around you at the gym, on the bus, and in the checkout line at the grocery store. And if one of them happens to have a service animal, consider speaking to them, too. We just need to make sure we don't interrupt their animal's work, or contribute to an incessant interruption of their lives.

Emotional Support Animals

An emotional support animal (ESA) provides therapeutic support to a person with a mental health disability, and may be kept in housing with pet restrictions and travel with their owner on airplanes. Otherwise, an emotional support animal handler has no special rights to be accompanied by their emotional support animal anywhere that animals are not generally allowed.


Species of Emotional Support Animals

There are no restrictions on species other than that a housing provider is only required to make reasonable accommodations for a person with an emotional support animal, and what is practical on an airplane.


Training, Certification, Registration, Documentation, ID Cards and Vests

Emotional support animals are often referred to as therapy animals, companion animals, or comfort animals by both the public and health professionals. They are basically household pets, and as such require no special training, certification or registration, nor are they required to have ID cards or wear vests.

However, while most animals provide love and emotional support, the designation of emotional support animal is only applicable to animals which have been prescribed by a licensed mental health professional. The mental health professional must document the need for their client to have an emotional support animal, which is typically done in the form of a letter.

The following text was taken from the HUD document:  Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs

"...the housing provider may ask persons who are seeking a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal that provides emotional support to provide documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability. Such documentation is sufficient if it establishes that an individual has a disability and that the animal in question will provide some type of disability-related assistance or emotional support."


Where You Can Take Your Emotional Support Animal

Businesses:  The owner of an emotional support animal has no special rights to be accompanied by their emotional support animal anywhere that animals are not generally allowed, except where individual states grant this right.

Hotels, Motels and Camps:  Hotels, motels and camps are treated as businesses, and emotional support animals are treated as pets.

Housing with Pet Restrictions  The Fair Housing Act (FHAct) allows that a person may keep an emotional support animal in housing with a "no pets" policy, or size or weight restrictions. Note, however, that it only requires that housing providers make reasonable accommodations for persons with emotional support animals.

To read more about your rights as a renter or tenant as governed by the laws in your state, follow the link to information for your state on this HUD page:  Tenant Rights by State

Or you can follow the link for your state on this HUD page to find a local counseling agency that you can phone:  HUD Approved Housing Counseling Agencies

The Fair Housing Act applies to a facility in which a person lives, including its common areas. It does not apply to hotels, motels, camps and other facilities lodging transient guests, which are treated as businesses.

Airplanes:  The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows that an emotional support animal may travel with its owner on an airplane. Follow the link and watch the video, and note that documentation may be required.

Google the name of your airline and "emotional support animal" for additional information.

Therapy Animals

A therapy animal provides therapeutic support to people other than its handler. Therapy animals teams are frequently invited to visit a great variety of facilities including schools, libraries, businesses, assisted living homes, dental offices, hospitals and hospices. However, a therapy animal handler has no special rights to be accompanied by their therapy animal anywhere that animals are not generally allowed.


Species of Therapy Animals

While many therapy dog organizations only accept dogs, other organizations and many facilities accept any number of other species including cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, horses, llamas, alpacas, pot-bellied pigs and birds.


Training, Certification, Registration, Documentation, ID Cards and Vests

Therapy animals do not require any special training. They only have to know basic obedience and be well-behaved, and be well-socialized and enjoy visiting with people.

Certification or registration with a therapy animal organization, and the insurance the organization provides, will likely be a requirement of any facility you visit. The need for documentation and identification will be determined by the therapy animal organization you work with and the facilities you visit.


Where You Can Take Your Therapy Animal

A therapy animal handler has no special rights to be accompanied by their therapy animal anywhere that animals are not generally allowed. Businesses, including hotels, motels, camps, apartments, condominiums and airlines, may and usually do treat therapy animals as pets.