Although our canine companions contribute to our lives in many ways, people often misunderstand the official classifications for these helper dogs.
What’s the difference between service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs, but what is the difference?
Let’s take a closer look:
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) is the primary U.S. Federal law governing service animals. To qualify, a service dog needs to have received special training to perform a task or tasks that assist a person with a disability. Dogs provide an emotional connection to their owners. Still, to receive an emotional support animal legally, you should consult a licensed mental health professional from emotional support animal services, who will suggest an appropriate solution.
Service dogs are the most restricted group of helping animals. They also enjoy the most protections, including the right to accompany their charge wherever they go, including public places and privately-owned venues such as restaurants or retail stores.
For many, the first image that comes to mind when they think of a service dog may be a guide dog for a blind person. However, there are now many other ways dogs to train dogs to perform specific duties to assist with a wide range of disabilities.
Service dogs’ responsibilities include:
- Clearing a room of any threats in support of those who have PTSD.
- Keeping track of autistic children and alerting guardians if they wander off opens up valuable opportunities for autistic children to build social connections with other kids.
- Assisting with impaired mobility, such as providing a brace for sitting and standing, pulling a wheelchair, or picking up items that have fallen out of reach.
- Helping people who suffer from anxiety.
Only two animals can officially be trained and recognized as service animals in the United States. Besides canines, the ADA also protects miniature horses trained to perform specific tasks for the disabled.
Emotional support dogs
There is a lot of misconception about Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). This rather broad classification of helper animals can include animals of any species, and they are not required to perform specific tasks or undergo any special training.
These animals provide a sense of comfort and security to their owners who may experience mental health issues such as social anxiety, PTSD, or panic disorders.
The ADA does not protect emotional support animals, but two other pieces of federal legislation protect them.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) gives people with emotional support animals protection from discrimination in housing. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) gives people the right to travel with their emotional support animals on aircraft.
Contrary to some myths in popular culture, because the ADA does not cover them, ESAs do not have special protection in terms of guaranteed access to public or private spaces like restaurants, bars, or shopping malls. Business owners are well within their rights to deny access to Emotional Support Animals.
A third way dogs improve our lives through officially recognized service is by participating in therapy dog programs of various kinds. These dogs take on many different roles where the human-canine bond improves people’s lives, usually those living in assisted care facilities, special needs homes, nursing homes, or prisons.
Although there are no federal standards for training therapy dogs, many local groups and organizations help participants work with their dogs to ensure strong manners, a gentle disposition, and broad exposure to socialization experiences to make sure they stay calm in every situation.
Some therapy dogs seem to have a special knack for connecting with specific populations, such as autistic children or the elderly. Rehabilitation programs, including mental, social, and physical rehabilitation, use therapy dogs.
Dogs make life better
The truth is that dog owners already know that their canine companions make life better in many ways, whether they hold an official title for their work. Why would we spend countless hours looking for the best dog food or hunting down a favorite chew toy?
But beyond their contribution as pets, many canines change lives through service.
Whether trained to assist the disabled, provide a special bond to help soothe the stress of daily living, or show up to put a smile on the face of someone feeling isolated in an institutional environment, these remarkable canines deserve a little extra recognition for their duties.
Mat Coulton is the creator of Wiley Pup, a website designed to help you raise an amazing dog.