A Hairy Issue: Is There A Difference Between Service, Therapy, And Comfort Pets?

When I took the leap of faith to get my kids their first pet, I was stunned by how difficult it was to teach them proper care techniques. I ended up enrolling them in grooming and care classes through my local pet store. While there, we learned a lot of tips and tricks for taking care of many common household pets. I knew that others could benefit from this information, so I decided to create this site to help. Whether you've had family pets for a while or you're getting ready to buy your kids their first, this site can help you be adequately prepared.

A Hairy Issue: Is There A Difference Between Service, Therapy, And Comfort Pets?

17 July 2017
 Categories: , Blog

It is not uncommon to see dogs accompanying their owners in public places where pets are usually prohibited, but are these actually service animals?

Some things to know about the distinctions between service, therapy, and emotional support (or comfort) pets are:

Service animals:

Service animals are limited to dogs, though any breed can be certified, and occasionally miniature horses. A service dog performs tasks or services that aid and compensate for the handler's disabilities. These animals are trained, typically for a year or two, and is deemed medical equipment under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which gives federal protection for a service animal to accompany the owner anywhere- public or private with few exceptions.

Some reasons you might have a service dog include:

  • Physical impairment.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • PTSD.

There are a growing number of pets being given access to public places under the guise of being a 'service animal', however staff, employees, or businesses do have a right to make queries related to the dog's service provision. The two questions permitted by law are:

- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? 

- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Service animals must be leashed or harnessed in public places, except when the tether would interfere with the animal's duties.  

Therapy pets:

Therapy pets, by contrast, can include dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, rats,miniature pigs,llamas, alpacas, horses, donkeys and mini-horses, or monkeys, if they are at least one-year of age and have been working with their owner for a period of six-months or longer. Therapy pets are trained, tested, registered, and insured to accompany the handler to visit and assist patients and residents of facilities and institutions to improve mood and bring some cheer. Training typically lasts around eight-weeks and therapy pets are not permitted in public places where animals are typically prohibited, unless given specific consent.

Emotional support pets:

There are no species restrictions for Emotional Support Animals, or comfort animals as they are often called. These pets belong to a disabled individual and a doctor has determined that the animal improves or benefits the individual's mental health. No special training is required and the pet needs a prescription from the owner's doctor indicating the need. These types of pets are not given free-reign to attend public places where animals are prohibited, however some state and local governments have laws in place that allow comfort animals to accompany owners to some public venues, such as stores, offices, restaurants, and pet-free apartments or residential housing facilities.

In short, service dogs help owners perform tasks to mitigate their disability, while therapy pets work with their handler to improve the health and well-being of others. Emotional support animals improve the life and wellness of their owner. Talk with your provider about how a working-dog could help you and ask about service dog registration kits!