When it comes to living with a chronic condition, animal companions can add another layer of comfort, safety and service. So, we’re opening up a conversation about therapy, emotional support and service animals, and the differences between them. Do you have an animal? Join the community and share a pic of your pet using the hashtag #PLMPets.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 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”. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals.
Examples of work tasks might be things like:
- Helping individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation
- Alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds
- Helping individuals with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors
- Check out more tasks here.
If you bring your service animal somewhere, any public entity or private business is allowed to ask you two questions to make sure your animal is indeed a service animal:
- Is this animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has this animal been trained to perform?
The ADA does not require service animals to be professionally trained. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program. State and federal laws differ, so make sure to check out your state’s laws on service animals.
To learn more about service animals and the ADA, check out this resource.
A therapy animal is a pet that has been trained to interact with many people other than its handler to make those people feel better. Therapy animals often visit patients and residents of facilities like hospitals and nursing homes to cheer up the people living there.Therapy animals and their handlers are not given public access rights like those of service dogs and their owners, because the handler does not always have a disability the dog is individually trained to mitigate. Therapy animal handlers also generally get prior agreement from facilities like hospitals or libraries before visiting.
Some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take therapy and emotional support animals into public places — it’s important to check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.
Emotional support animals
These animals provide companionship and can help with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions, but don’t need to have any special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. While emotional support animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan to provide therapy to their owners, they’re not considered service animals under the ADA.
If you’re living in the United States and suffer from emotional or mental health conditions, in order to qualify for emotional support animals (ESA) all you need is an official letter written by a licensed mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, licensed clinical social worker, or psychologist. It is required that you must be living with an “emotional or mental disability that is certified by a mental health professional” to receive such a letter.
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