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Service Animal, Emotional Support Animal and Therapy Animals What is Difference

Service Animal, Emotional Support Animal and Therapy Animals What is Difference

admin 8 July 12, 2018
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Having a pet in the home can give you and your family a great boost of health and overall well-being. Many times, you’ll probably see your pet as part of your family—one you may want to spend quite a bit of time with.

Some animals that live with us are more than just family members—they give us therapeutic and tangible support, especially if we have disabilities. You may have heard of terms such as “service animals,” and “emotional support animals” –many times, used synonymously.

But there are distinctive differences between service animals and emotional support animals.

What Is a Service Animal?
Probably the most popular kind of service animal you’ve seen is a dog assisting a visually impaired person. According to the American Disability Act, “a service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Service dogs are exclusively dogs—no other animal species is considered as a service animal.

Depending on the disability of the human owner, the service animal can help pull a wheelchair, assist hearing impaired individuals with awareness of certain sounds, helping a person who is experiencing a seizure, and much more.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
Admittedly, this term may sound a bit frivolous, with the recent stories of support peacocks, snakes, and more—especially as passengers attempt to board airplanes with these rather exotic animals. An emotional support animal can sound like an animal for companionship.

Michigan State College of Law tackles this definition considering federal housing regulations for allowing animals in places that have a no pets restrictions:

“An emotional support animal is not a pet. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability (the reason cannot just be a need for companionship).”

What Are the Differences Between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals?
More broadly, emotional support animals aren’t as regulated as service animals. Specifically, emotional support animals primarily just need a note from a medical or mental health professional.

Director of Training at the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s VetDogs, Brad Hibbard, spoke to People Magazine about the key difference between a service or assistance animal and an emotional support animal, which is training for specific tasks.

“[A]n emotional support animal has no training. There might be something the person has done. There could be obedience training and work with someone to ensure the animal has good behavior, and can travel on a plane, but they have not been trained to do a task. Just their presence might be something that can help someone with that mental or emotional condition.”

This isn’t to say that emotional support animals aren’t important. Both the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act permit emotional support animals on planes and in housing, respectively. Yet they are not covered by the ADA and don’t have any formal certification processes for the animals.

Comparatively, service animals are certified through the International Guide Dog Federation or Assistance Dogs International.

As one can imagine, because emotional support animals, as important as they may be, do not have any training requirements, they can detract from the important work service animals do if they misbehave, creating additional hurdles for people to bring their service animals with them. So it’s important to know the distinctions between the two types of animals so individuals with disabilities can continue to experience greater quality of life without interruption or hassle.

8 Replies to “Service Animal, Emotional Support Animal and Therapy Animals What is Difference”

  1. I am an individual with an emotional support animal which helps me with mdd and bipolar disorder and as she Is about to retire I am in the process of attaining another youngster. In addition to my own disability I have two adult daughters who are disabled with Myotonic muscular dystrophy which affects them physically and mentally.
    I have been a dog training “nut” for some 30 years now and I couldn’t agree more with your opinion regarding emotional support vs service animals. However I have great respect for both. I am hoping that with growing awareness folks with emotional support animals (especially dogs and cats) can be helped by others with training experience should they need to tweak the skills of their emotional therapy dogs so that all in the disabled community will be more evenly served. I will close by saying that there are skills which an ETA should have and training these behaviors will only show the general public the incredible impact they can make on a life.

    1. Could not have said it better myself! My “Jersey” has made it her mission to take care of me. She is a rescue too! I love training animals, but she trained me as well. She heals & all on her own. She is a spirit! I love our fur-babies! We need them as much as they need us. I want to help people understand too before they cause more harm for people like us. God Bless! Oh, I’m a AML Leukemia, Allogenic Bone Marrow Transplant patient WITH gvhd, nephropathy, complex PTSD, so much to spell. LOL!

  2. I have lost my husband of 59yrs. & my son in the past 3 yrs. My Cocker Spaniel has been a God send. Can he be certified as an emotional support animal?

  3. yes go to ur dr or mental health dr and have them give you a letter stating ur illness and how the animal compforts you in the time of need.

  4. Great article. You are doing great work. Much of the problems surrounded around the noble concept is because of the misunderstanding about the difference between the animals. As for me i got the esa letter from the website myesadoctor and the doctor there told me about the difference like everyone should.

  5. I had no idea that emotional support animals help provide therapeutic benefits to individuals with mental or psychiatric disabilities. My sister has struggled with panic attacks and depression for the entirety of her adult life. He has a golden retriever, so it might be good for her to train it to be a service dog in case she has any more emergencies in the future.

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