What is the difference between a service dog, therapy animal, and emotional support animal?
It’s common that these titles are used interchangeably, however, these services are not like each other. Although some of the services provided by these animals overlap, they are regulated and certified differently.
A service dog is specifically trained to assist an individual with a disability. These dogs are trained for tasks required by their handler, as well as have their temperament tested in a variety of environments. Service dogs are ADA covered giving them permission to access public establishments with their handler.
In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.*
Therapy animals are personal pets who work with their owner in a variety of environments, often on a volunteer basis. Their primary job is to provide therapeutic relief to many people. Many therapy dogs receive certification, however in some situations it is not required. Therapy animals and their handlers have no special access rights under the American Disability Act. They work in hospitals, schools, and other facilities with the permission of the facility.
Emotional Support Animal
An ESA is a personal pet that provides support through companionship to a person with a mental health condition. An ESA must be prescribed by a provider to be protected under the Fair Housing Act. This act permits ESAs to live with their owner in housing with a “No Pets” policy in place. However, they are not protected by the ADA and therefore do not have special rights of access in public establishments.
Reference the chart below for specific requirements and permissions.