CHARLOTTE – Recently I was asked to explain the difference between emotional support dogs, therapy dogs, and service dogs. The differences are important to understand not only for ourselves but also for the people that need them in their lives every day.
Emotional support dog:
Pets provide emotional stability for their owner when this person might otherwise struggle to handle everyday situations. No privileges except being able to live in a home structure that doesn’t normally allow pets.
Well-trained dogs are allowed to go into specific places to support people in distress. They provide companionship and help with depressing or high anxiety situations, like after disaster strikes, or in hospitals. They must be approved by the facility and must pass a manners/behavior test, with their handler, to demonstrate their skills.
The American Disabilities Act defines a service dog as “…any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” These tasks can include bracing themselves to provide support, picking up dropped items, opening/closing doors, and cabinets, alerting the hearing-impaired owner for sounds, safely guiding their owner who is blind, and supporting a person with PTSD. A person with a service dog cannot be denied access to a place where animals are not allowed.
Please, be respectful of people with service dogs! Give them space and let the dog work, focusing on his owner.