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Things You Should Know About Service and Therapy Animals

Service animals can be an excellent means therapy through company and support. In fact, they’ve become so popular that nowadays we seem to be seeing more service animals around than ever. That being said, it’s interesting that there are plenty of misconceptions around as to what exactly service animals are. First and foremost, it’s worth noting that there is a distinction between therapy animals, support animals, and service animals.

Types of Animal Therapy and Assistance

Service animals are trained to assist individuals who have a disability. They are alternatively known as assistance animals or by titles associated with their tasks. For example, many of us have heard of guide dogs, whose job it is to guide a person who is blind or visually impaired.

Conversely, emotional support animals provide therapeutic support to individuals with mental-health-related disabilities. These dogs can be kept in housing even when there is a “no pet” policy and they may travel with their owners on airplanes. Aside from this, owners of emotional support animals have no special rights to be accompanied by their animals anywhere where they might not be generally allowed.

Therapy animals, however, differ from both support and service animals by providing support to people other than their handlers. These animals are frequently invited to visit libraries, schools, hospices, hospitals, and assisted living communities due to the benefits that their services provide. Despite these benefits, therapy animal handlers have no special rights to be accompanied by their animals anywhere where animals are not allowed.

Common Misconceptions about Therapy and Service Animals

In addition to the misconceptions commonly held about the differences between these types of animal assistance, there are others which frequently occur. One such misconception is that therapy animals need to be legally registered or have some kind of certification or I.D. In reality, there is no legal certification process or registration for therapy or support animals. There are websites where one can procure official-looking vests and documentation for assistance animals but these items are not mandatory as there is no mandatory form of certification required by the government.

Such misunderstandings about service animals are understandable, however. Laws concerning animal assistance can be very confusing. Because of this, it’s worth going over some commonly held misconceptions about service animals to clarify exactly what it means to have one and how they can benefit individuals in need:

Are Assistance Animals Covered by Legislation?

Assistance animals fall under the jurisdiction of three federal agencies.

  • The Justice Department takes care of the Americans with Disabilities Act which covers the access of service animals to public places like restaurants, train stations, and hospitals.
  • The Department of Transportation covers the Air Carrier Access Act which stipulates passengers with psychiatric problems have the right to have service and emotional support animals on commercial airplanes.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development covers the Fair Housing Act which controls access of assistance animals to rental housing, apartments, and condos.

Do I Have to Reveal the Nature of my Disorder to Bring my Service Dog into a No-Pet Zone?

In short, the answer is no. According to federal law, you can only be asked one of two questions about your service animal:

  • Does your dog provide a service?
  • What is your dog trained to do?

Thus, you are not legally required to reveal the nature of your disorders unless you consent to doing so.

What if a Restaurant Owner or Other Proprietor Insists on Seeing Proof that My Dog is Trained?

You are not legally required to provide any proof beyond your word that your animal is service trained. If they continue to insist (especially in a manner that may be deemed aggressive or belligerent) they may risk infringing upon the Americans with Disabilities Act which protects the rights of individuals who are in need of the services of an assisting animal.

Do Assistance Animals Need to Wear a Vest or Do Owners Need to Carry Identification?

No because there is no official federal or state mandatory certification process for assistance animals. As a result, neither service animals nor emotional support animals are required to wear vests.

Can a Snake be a Service Animal?

In short, no. Only dogs and miniature horses can be service animals. That being said, according to the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act animals such as snakes may qualify as an emotional support animal.

Know Your Service Animal Rights

Assistance animals can be excellent companions and benefit individuals with a variety of medical needs. However, it’s important to be informed of one’s rights and limitations when having an animal for any assisting purposes. This can help with avoiding legal altercations and ensuring that persons with assistance animals receive the maximum therapeutic benefit from their constant companions.

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