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Service vs Emotional Animals, What to Know

by | Apr 1, 2021

When we think of animals, we often recognize they can bring comfort and joy to many of our lives. However, they can also offer support in various ways that are beneficial to a quality life. One way dogs do this is through serving as an emotional support animal or service animal. Although both of these acts serve in similar ways, emotional support animals are different from service animals. 

The Major Difference:

Both registered emotional support and service animals, including dogs, can provide comfort and support for individuals facing emotional disabilities like anxiety or depression. They have been proven to enhance dopamine levels in humans. However, although both are recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to be considered a service animal, the owner must have a disability rather than an impairment.

Service Animals:

These dogs (and other species such as miniature horses) have undergone specialized training to complete work or tasks that help a person with a disability. The tasks performed by a service animal must directly relate to the person’s disability. While most people automatically think of Guide Dogs, whose job is to help their visually impaired handlers navigate, this is only one example of a task service dogs can be trained to perform. Other examples of service dogs include those that detect trace amounts of peanuts for their handler who has a significant peanut allergy.

An owner with a seizure disorder may have a dog that reminds them to take their medication, can detect early signs of a seizure. Hence, the owner is in a safe position for a seizure and protect their head during a seizure episode. While service animals are often seen wearing a vest or harness that identifies them as a service animal, this is not required. In fact, as long as the dog is well trained to respond to vocal commands, a service animal is not required to be on a leash (though they often are). 

Emotional Support Animals:

are not the same as service animals and do not have the same rights. Emotional support animals (ESAs) are intended to provide comfort to their owner. A key difference is that ESAs have not been trained to provide specific care or complete a specific task for their owners. However, emotional support animals must be well behaved, not cause a disturbance, and remain under the control of their owners at all times.

ESAs are allowed to live and travel (such as on a plane) with their owners without paying additional fees, even if pets are not allowed in the apartment complex. At times owners may be required to provide the appropriate documentation from a medical professional or a veterinarian (stating that the pet is up to date on vaccines and does not pose a threat to others). While ESAs are typically not allowed in other public spaces that do not allow dogs, some states and cities have different rules. 

Third Category:

A third and sometimes lesser-known category is “Therapy pets,” these animals- often dogs-visit schools, hospitals, retirement homes, hospice centers, and more. Similar to ESAs these pets help cheer people up, combat depression, and provide motivation. However, a key difference is that they live with an owner – and come in to visit the places they provide therapy. These pets can be trained by their owner or go through a formal training program. Some facilities will allow volunteers to bring in their pets if their disposition and training are a good match. 

Below is an infographic made by FiveBarks.com. If you would like more information about their page click the link with their name. Check out their infographic below for more information on this topic!

Infographic for Service, Emotional, and Third Category Blog