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Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animal, and Therapy Animal

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

Are you confused about what a Service Dog, Emotional Support Animal (ESA) or Therapy Dog is? Do you want one, but aren't sure which you need? Are you a professional and unsure about what dogs you can allow into your business store or business? This article is a crash course on the subject. I am sharing information based on national and Colorado state laws, but keep in mind, each state may have slightly different rules.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animals (ESA) is an animal that provides companionship, comfort and emotional support for a person. An ESA can be almost any type of animal. Dogs and cats are the most common, but you also see rodents, reptiles and birds. I'm sure you have seen some news stories of people claiming exotic animals as their ESA. An ESA does not need any special training, but I would advise that you at least teach them the basics so that they can behave in public and in your home. To get your pet certified as an ESA all you need is a doctors note from a licensed mental health professional. That's it. Those online certification programs where you pay them a fee and get a "certification" are scams. There is no legally recognized ESA certification. ESAs are allowed in any apartment or rental property even if they are not pet-friendly as long as you have your doctors note. As of January 4, 2021 ESAs are no longer allowed in airports or on planes unless you are following the pet animal procedures, so less than 25lbs and in a carrier. This is largely due to a lot of people abusing the system and bringing their poorly trained, destructive, aggressive or reactive pets onto planes causing messes, damage, aggravating other passengers, and in a couple of cases, attacking other passengers and animals. For more information on the new rule, go to the Department of Transportation website. ESAs do not have public access rights, so you can't take them to the mall, grocery store, etc. Some restaurants may allow you to bring your ESA, but check with them first ahead of time as it is completely up to their discretion.

Therapy Animal

A Therapy Animal is similar to an ESA in that it provides emotional support, but in this case for a large number of people. Therapy Animals are most commonly dogs, but you do see other animals such as horses, cats and pigs. Common places for Therapy Animals are nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and airports. Really in any high stress environment. Each place will have their own requirements, some places like to go through organizations that temperament test and train therapy dogs. Some just want the dog to have a CGC (Canine Good Citizen) certification. And others just want a well behaved dog that is trained either by their owner or a professional dog trainer. Therapy dogs do not need specialized training, just general obedience and good manners. Therapy dogs are allowed anywhere pets are allowed, with the exception of the place where they work.

Service Animal

A Service Animal is different in that they have been specially trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability. They only serve one person and need to go through strict training regime either by their owner or by a professional. Some examples of a task are alerting their handler when an allergen is in their food, pulling a wheelchair, guiding the blind, interrupting a panic attack, etc. Only dogs and miniature horses can be service animals under the law. There is no certification or doctors note requirement. You also have the right to train your service dog on your own without the help of a professional. That being said, unless you are experienced with dog training, I would recommend contacting a professional dog trainer to guide you through the process. Service dogs are very highly trained, and the average person does not have the knowledge or skill to get a dog to that level. Service Animals have public access rights which means they are allowed just about anywhere their handler is allowed including stores, restaurants, schools, office buildings, and hospitals. In Colorado, Service Dogs in training are also allowed, but this is not the same everywhere. If someone brings a service dog into your business, you are allowed to ask two questions:

1. Is the animal required because of a disability?

2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

You may not ask for documentation or for the person to give their diagnosis or medical history. You may not refuse entrance based on the fact that they have a service dog. The exception is if the dog is not behaving and under the control of the handler and disrupting your business. Some examples are, excessive barking, growling, running away from their handler, jumping on people, or going to the bathroom. In that case, you may tell the handler that they need to get their dog under control or they will need to leave. If you would like to learn more about the rules that govern Service Dogs, I would go to the Americans with Disabilities Act website.

This is just a quick overview of Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals and Therapy Animals. If you are interested in leaning more about them, I would recommend starting with the ADA website that is linked above. If you are interested in training your dog as a Service Dog, Therapy Dog or ESA, contact me for information on temperament testing, guidance through self-training or training programs.

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