Is This a Service Animal, Therapy Animal, or Pet?

It has become apparent that pet owners are interested in taking their pets with them everywhere they go. Some hotel chains are making exceptions for pets. There are pets in businesses and public venues that I have not seen before. I believe that we are going to see more opportunities for pets in public places in the future. Yet we must be cautious not to infringe on the rights of those working dogs that are essential for the disabled and/or handicapped to carry out their day to day routines.

We are seeing an increase number of people indicating their “pet” is a therapy animal, service animal, or emotional support animal. Yet there is much confusion and misunderstandings about what the differences are. I am going to share some basic information and then encourage you to ask more questions and find out more details if there are situations that you are finding yourself or someone you love in. A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. A disability can include a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that a medical professional (licensed mental health professional) has determined provides benefit for an individual with a disability. A therapy animal has been obedience trained and screened for its ability to interact favorably with humans. Their primary purpose is to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, etc. At Winterset Veterinary Center we have been asked to write letters indicating a pet is an emotional support or therapy animal. We are not licensed to make that decision so we cannot write such a letter. There are trainers that offer many different levels of training. One must educate themselves on what are the needs of the person desiring the animal. How do you select the animal and is that even possible? What are the expenses necessary to train the animal? If we train this animal, where are we allowed to take the it at the end of the program? The following link has an excellent chart describing the differences between service, emotional support, and therapy animals. The article is associated with a news team that realized how easy it was to turn a family pet into a service dog just through an online purchase. Of course that is not legal and is punishable by law if someone is caught passing their dog off as a service dog.

I reprinted the chart below so if you are interested in learning the comparison’s between service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs it is there for your information. I found this chart at titled, “Is that a real service dog?”

There are very high standards and guidelines that must be followed with service animals. These requirements take a large number of hours in training and gaining experiences that can often times only be accomplished through programs like Paws and Effect, Puppy Jake, Guide Dogs of America, etc. Even in these programs sometimes up to 50% of the puppies that begin training never complete the training or retire early. The cost to train a dog in one of these programs can range from $10,000-$20,000 or more. The training can span more than 2 years depending on what tasks the animal is being taught. Attempting to adopt a dog or purchase a dog and start the training process yourself can be a great expense and at the end a dog may not have the skills or mental capacity to be a service dog. Often times a trainer agrees to help you train your dog but there is no guarantee that you will have a dog that can truly be a service dog for you or your loved one. Take time to look at this link and recognize the great challenges that lie before you and your pet. The investment in time and money will be substantial. The following link lists requirements of service dogs in public and will be a good source of information.

Testing: Service Dog & Service Dog in Training

If after reading this you are still interested in training your dog to be a service dog, emotional support dog, or therapy dog. A good place to start is working toward a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) award. A CGC award is for dogs that pass basic social and behavioral classes. There are 10 basic steps to this award. It is a noncompetitive test for all dogs and can be used as a prerequisite for therapy dogs. Some homeowner insurance companies and apartment complexes are looking to use these tests to encourage good manners in the dogs and teach responsible pet ownership to their owners. The following link gives you more information on what this CGC test is all about and what the test items are. This is a great place to start with any dog and if it receives this award then you are able to move forward with additional training and tasks. If it fails this CGC test then you need to realize this dog will never be anything but a very special pet that can give you great joy and happiness.

This last link just points out the great injustice to those people who do have service dogs and how it affects them in their daily lives when others try to pass their pets off as service dogs. Please consider the danger of “Imposter Service Animals” to the general public. We need to protect the true service animals and their owners by keeping our companion animals only in public places that allow all pets.

Easy-to-Obtain Vests Can Make an Untrained Pet Look Like an Authentic Service Dog