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The Difference Between Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals and Therapy Dogs

15 March, 2017
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The Difference Between Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, and Therapy Dogs

Although service dogs for the deaf and blind have been used for decades, doctors and mental health professionals are now attesting to the benefits dogs (and other animals) bring to those individuals that need emotional or stress-relieving help.

However, since this practice of emotional and therapy pooch is relatively new, we tend to clump the jobs these animals do all into one category. Sure, we know these dogs are important to the individuals they are helping but do we know the difference between service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs?

We’ve consulted with the experts to clear up the mystery and misunderstanding of this important trio.

What is a Service Dog?

According to the organization, ‘Please Don’t Pet Me,’ a service dog is defined as a canine assistant that helps those with physical disabilities. This can include those folks in wheelchairs, limited vision or hearing, epilepsy and a wide array of other physical health problems. This type of dog works to help the disabled person do things and live a life he/she may not be otherwise able to do.

This type of human/canine partnership is protected by The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), DOT’s Air Carrier Access Act, DOJ/HUD Fair Housing Act and Federal Rehabilitation Act. These laws ensure the canine will be granted access to public buildings, airlines, and no-pets apartments/condos.  

A service dog should not be petted by strangers when on duty, as this can be a distraction to the animal which could cause harm to the disabled person.

Since service dogs are highly trained from an early age, obtaining a service animal can be quite costly. Most organizations quote around $20,000 for a service dog. Depending on your country and city of location this fee may be paid by individual fundraising, government programs or by the service dog organization itself. If you are unable to afford a professionally trained service dog, you may train your service dog yourself.

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What is an Emotional Support Animal?

Unlike a service dog, the emotional support animal does not have to be highly trained to do its job. The main focus of an emotional support animal is to be there to provide unconditional love, support, companionship and friendship for the person with a psychological disorder. The idea behind this type of partnership is to help those individuals that may suffer from severe depression, anxiety issues or debilitating stress. A doctor, mental health professional or psychotherapist can prescribe an emotional support animal for the person in need.

The role of the emotional support animal isn’t always awarded to a dog. It can be a cat, bird, turtle, rabbit or even a horse.

According to ESA Doctors, these animals are also allowed onto airlines and into ‘no pets allowed’ housing as long as they have an ESA letter or document from a mental health professional.

How Can I Get an ESA Letter Online?

How to get an ESA letter

What is a Therapy Dog?

A therapy dog is also trained, but for a different purpose. This dog should be naturally friendly, easy-going, loving and able to handle any situation from calm to chaotic. The therapy dog is used for the sole purpose of bringing stress-relief to those in need. This can include schools, hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and more. Therapy dogs are accompanied by a handler (usually the pet parent) and can be interacted with, in fact, it’s encouraged.

The role of the therapy dog can vary from visit-to-visit, depending on where it is needed. Therapy dogs are used in grade schools to encourage reluctant students to read aloud; they may sit with patients that are critically ill or just in need of a pick-me-up, as well as actively participating in someone’s physical rehabilitation.

Albeit an important type of service, therapy dogs are not usually allowed into public places, airlines or those living quarters where there are no pet policies in place.

The Importance of Assistance Animals

The dog and human bond go way back in time, so it’s only natural that we would integrate them into the service world. Dogs have a special intuition that allows them to know when a person is hurting emotionally or is physically ill or disabled. And for this, we are truly blessed to have the lovable canine to be our partners in life.

Whether you need a service dog, emotional support animal or therapy dog, the canine is always on duty.

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