The Difference Between the Various Types of Assistance Animals

There are various assistance animals such as Emotional Support Animals (ESA), service dogs and therapy animals. So, what is the difference?

What is a service animal and a support animal?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is defined as any dog that’s trained to individually perform work or tasks in benefit to a person with incapacities, including both mental and physical disabilities. It also helps people with sensorial, psychiatric, intellectual and other mental disabilities. On the other hand, support animals offer the company, alleviate loneliness and at times help with depression, anxiety, and some phobias, but they don’t have the special training to do tasks that might help people with disabilities.

Studies show how dogs not only feel good around their human, but they also make their human feel better in return. This is due to the levels of oxytocin and cortisol in dogs and owners being closely associated. Dogs are quite simply soulful-eyed, tail-wagging, loving and furry four-legged antidepressants.

Can service animals’ access be denied to public spaces or services?

service dogHandicap swimmer with service dog

Under the ADA, you and your service animal cannot be denied access from any public institution in which public members, program participants, consumers or clients are permitted. This even applies when there’s a “no pets” allowed policy in any space. You and your pet cannot be denied access to public transportation, nor be obliged to pay extra coverage or sit in particular places. Schools, and universities must permit students and their service animals on all installations open for the public or students.

Do these policies apply to emotional support animals too?

Not necessarily. Permitting an ESA in a workspace could be considered as a reasonable accommodation, and you might be asked for legal documentation like an ESA letter. The Fair Housing law could get you and your ESA on a rentable space without any issue, but proper documentation could also be requested from landlords. Under educational circumstances, a student can bring in an animal that is not considered a service animal under the ADA if the faculty decides that it is needed for a student’s factual and optimized educational experience. According to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACCA) require emotional support animals to accompany their owners in cabins. If you need to travel with an emotional support animal, you should check with the company before traveling regarding its regulations.

Pet assisted therapy: What is it and how does it help?

Unlike emotional support animals, Pet assisted therapy pets are not enlisted under specific laws.

Pet Assisted Therapy (PAT) is being credited more and more around the world for the great impact it can have in the lives of many people – from children and the elderly to people with disabilities.
Pet Assisted Therapy is the use of suitable animals to assist and help people improve the quality of their physical and emotional wellbeing, in areas such as:

  • chronic illnesses and disabilities
  • depression
  • role reversal and negative dependency
  • loneliness and isolation
  • helplessness and hopelessness
  • low self-esteem
  • absence of humor

There are two main popular therapeutic services under PAT:

  1. Animal Assisted Activity: which mainly focuses on meet-and-greets, involving people and pet interactions. These activities might be repeated with many people and are not specifically tailored to particular people or medical conditions.
  2. Animal Assisted Therapy: is based on programs where particular animals are chosen for a specific individual. These are programs created by a professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, physician or therapist. There are end goals expected to be met in programs alike and the clients’ progress are usually charted.


Contributed by CertaPet.

Images: Pixabay and Unsplash

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