The Differences Between Service, Emotional Support, and Therapy Animals

Guide dog helping blind man in the city.

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A service animal, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is a dog of any breed or miniature horse that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the animal must be directly related to the person’s disability. For example, providing stability for a person who has difficulty walking or picking up items for a person who uses a wheelchair.  Some disabilities are not as visible, such as the case with depression. A person with depression may have an animal that is trained to remind her to take her medication. However, the animal would not qualify as a service animal if it only provided comfort; a service animal must perform a task(s).  

A service animal does not need to be registered or certified with any state, government agency, or organization.  Nor, are service animals required to wear any identifying vest, ID tag, or specific harness. The service animal can either be trained by the handler or a professional.  In the state of NC, a service animal in training is required to wear a collar and leash, harness or cape that identifies it as a Service Animal in Training and is afforded the same rights as a service animal under the ADA.  An individual with a service animal should not be denied housing or access on a plane because of the service animal under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

It is important to note that emotional support and therapy animals are not considered service animals because they are not specifically trained to perform a job or task and therefore not protected under the ADA.  In cases where emotional support animals provide therapeutic benefits to individuals with a mental or psychiatric disability they are protected by the FHA and ACAA. Therapy dogs, those that provide affection and comfort to individuals in hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities, are not protected by any federal or state laws and are deemed permitted into public places on a case-by-case basis.  

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