Support and Service Animals, What You Need to Know

They are loyal, unconditional, always happy to see us, never mad at us. Pets are without a doubt the most pure love we can find, only after the one between parents and children. A pet won’t expect from you nothing more than love and care.

Over time we have discovered that dogs, for example, are great for kids and sick people. Now some dogs are not only allowed, but required to be present at certain hospitals where they can offer that unique love to lonely, depressed or very specific patients. They are considered Therapy Animals and they need to have obedience training. Their primary purpose is to provide affection and comfort to people in hospices, disaster areas, hospitals, nursing homes, or retirement homes. They are great also for patients with learning disabilities.

Now, Service Animals, just like those who are a guide for blind people or patients with other physical conditions are dogs, or in some cases miniature horses, trained to perform major tasks to assist people with physical disabilities. In order to be a service animal, they have to be certified on their training, and those who qualify to have a Service Animal are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Now, there are patients who suffer from other kind of conditions like phobias, anxiety, depression, or stress due to a specific situation. They might find relief having an animal by their side. In this case, they could qualify to have an Emotional Support Animal (ESA), and usually, they are dogs, cats or other animals that are not required to be trained to perform a specific task. However, in order to have an ESA, the animal has to be prescribed for a person by a licensed therapist, like a mental health professional, in a formal letter that should state the need of the animal for the treatment of that person.

ESAs are protected by the Air Carrier Access Act  and the Fair Housing Amendments. Those laws protect an emotionally disabled person and his or her Emotional Support Animal. However, and different from the Service Animals, other businesses, places or institutions, like restaurants, hotels or stores are not obligated by law to admit your ESA.

While we have seen an increase on the number of Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals, it is important to understand the difference between those categories and over all, the importance and seriousness of their role in someone’s life. If you believe you may qualify to have a Service Animal or an Emotional Support Animal, talk to you physician and ask all the questions you need.

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