Difference Between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

After the perceived exploitations of the protections for emotional support animals over the past few years, businesses and the public have gained a skepticism of any person seeking accommodations for his or her animal. However, this skepticism has been unfairly applied to service animals for such unseen disabilities as PTSD, autism, diabetes, and epilepsy. Here are five facts about service dogs that differentiate them from emotional support animals.

Service Animals Are Protected Under the Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA) specifically protects service animals. Under the ADA, businesses and government buildings must allow service animal to accompany people with disabilities into any area generally open to the public. Most of us are familiar with signs near the entrances to shops and office buildings excluding all animals except service animals. While this is a correct statement of the law, the shop or office building actually has no legal authority to exclude service animals under the ADA, even if it wanted to. Thus, service animals are allowed in all public buildings, regardless of whether they have a sign acknowledging their duty to allow service animals.

The ADA Includes Psychiatric Service Dogs

The definition of a service dog in the ADA is a dog that is trained to work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Disabilities are not limited to physical disabilities and, in fact, written guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Justice provides specific examples of the types of tasks that qualify an animal as a service dog. Among the examples are service dogs for PTSD that are trained to sense anxiety attacks; seizure response service dogs trained to sense the onset of a seizure; and diabetic service dogs trained to sense the signs of low and high blood sugar levels.

Service Dogs Must Be Trained

As mentioned previously, the ADA’s definition of service animals requires that the service animal be trained to work or perform tasks for a person with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Justice acknowledges there is a fine line between service animals (which are protected by the ADA) and emotional support animals (which are not protected by the ADA). Service animals must be trained, and the training must include work or tasks for a person with a disability that relate to the person’s disability. For example, for people who take medication, service dogs for PTSD may remind the person to take his or her medication or retrieve the medication for him or her, and for people who suffer from dissociative episodes, service dogs for PTSD may guide the person home. Since the purpose of the service dog is to perform tasks for the person with disabilities, the training is tailored to the specific disability and will vary even for people with the same diagnosed disability.

Service Animals Are Not Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals are different from service animals in a variety of ways. First, emotional support animals are not required to be trained to work or perform tasks. Rather, they provide emotional support by their mere presence.

Second, emotional support animals are not protected by the ADA. In fact, protections for emotional support animals are limited to accommodation in housing and air travel. For example, a landlord cannot reject a tenant under a “no pets” policy if the animal is an emotional support animal and an airline must accommodate emotional support animals on airplanes. However, all other businesses and government buildings are free to exclude emotional support animals.

Service Animals Must Be Allowed in Public Accommodations

Americans have over 75 million pet dogs, more than any other country, and perceived overuse of the emotional support animal protections have driven many businesses to exclude all animals, including emotional support animals, except those they are required by law to accommodate. All service animals, including psychiatric service dogs, must be accommodated under the ADA. Of course, there are limitations. Service dogs, like any guest of a business, must not be disruptive. For example, a service dog that begs for food in a restaurant or runs loose in a shop can be excluded due to its disruptive behavior. However, the ADA protects the service dog from being excluded preemptively because the business owner believes the service dog might be disruptive.

To contact us about a service dog, please fill out our service dog application. Please ensure all fields, including address are correct before submitting information.

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Service Dogs by SDWR

Service Dogs By SDWR is committed to changing the lives of those with invisible disabilities such as Autism, Diabetes, PTSD, and Seizure Disorders. “Until there’s a cure… There’s a dog!”

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