General Discussion > Emotional Support Animals (publicly viewable board)

Is it an emotional support animal or a psychiatric service dog?

(1/4) > >>


The difference between emotional support animals and service animals is threefold:

1. To have a service animal, a person must be so impaired as to have a disability. For example, needing glasses for poor vision is an impairment, but being unable to see with or without glasses is a disability. Having a mental illness is an impairment, but being unable to function on a minimal level because of a mental illness is a disability. Folks may have an emotional support animal due to a mental impairment if they are also otherwise disabled or elderly or they may have an emotional support animal because of a mental illness disability. Only those actually disabled by a psychiatric impairment would qualify to use a psychiatric service dog.

2. Service animals are task trained to actually do something which mitigates the person's disability. Their defined function is not to provide emotional support (affection on demand or a security blanket) but to do something the handler cannot do for themselves which allows that handler to overcome or ameliorate an inability to perform major life activities. Emotional support animals don't have to be trained, so long as they do not disturb neighbors or pose a threat to public safety.

3. A person with a disability has a right to be accompanied by a trained service dog which is assisting them in most public accommodations (places of business). A person with an impairment or a disability does not have a right to be accompanied by an emotional support animal unless individual state laws specifically grant this right, in which case it applies only in that state.

Some folks confuse Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) with Psychiatric Service Animals (PSAs). They think that "training" a dog to kiss on command or jump in their lap, or be hugged is a task qualifying the animal as a service animal. Real tasks for PSDs (psychiatric service dogs) include counterbalance/bracing for a handler dizzy from medication, waking the handler on the sound of an alarm when the handler is heavily medicated and sleeps through alarms, doing room searches or turning on lights for persons with PTSD, blocking persons in dissociative episodes from wandering into danger (i.e. traffic), leading a disoriented handler to a designated person or place, and so on.

If you look at the tasks just described (and those listed below), you will see that PSD tasks are actually very similar to tasks for persons with other disabilities. Guiding to a place and blocking from danger are common Guide Dog tasks. Signaling for an alarm is a common hearing dog task. Balancing/bracing and turning on lights are common Mobility Dog tasks. That's because they are real service dog tasks for persons whose disability happens to be due to mental illness.

"I can't bend over to pick up dropped items like housekeys because my medication makes me so dizzy I fall down when I try. My dog was trained to pick up dropped items so I could get the things I needed without injuring myself in the process."

"I become confused and disoriented when I dissociate. I wander off and become lost and cannot find my way back home. My dog was trained to a) stop me from wandering by planting me someplace until the episode passed, or b) guide me home on command."

"I wander into traffic when I am disoriented. I fear becoming 'road pizza.' My dog was trained to block me from stepping in front of moving cars, or to block me automatically at each intersection."

"I pick at my skin and pull out my hair without noticing that I am doing it because of OCD. I do it to the point that I injure myself and bleed. My dog was trained to interrupt and redirect my picking behavior toward a less harmful behavior like grooming my dog."

"When I miss my medication I become violently ill. So ill that I cannot even rise to a seated position. I vomit uncontrollably. My dog was trained to bring me my medication and a juice box so I could take it even when I am in this condition. She was also trained to clear the vomit out of my airway so I don't choke, even if I pass out."

"I sleep so soundly because of the sedating effects of my medication that I will sleep through tornado sirens and smoke alarms. I fear I will die in my sleep if I do not respond to such emergencies. My dog was trained to respond upon hearing a siren or smoke alarm by climbing all over me, licking my face, pulling off the covers, and gripping my hand in her mouth and pulling me off the bed to wake me."

"I hallucinate that I smell smoke or see a stranger/scarab/dragon/etc. My dog was trained to notify me when there was smoke or a stranger so that I could tell whether what I sensed was real or a hallucination."

"I am terrified of entering my home and am easily startled and terrified by unidentified noises. My dog was trained to search my home upon entering and notify me if anyone was present. She was also trained to alert me whenever a person approached my home."

While most handlers will tell you that they receive some emotional support from their service animal, regardless of their disability, that support or companionship is a bonus and not a justification for the animal being a service animal. It's fine to teach your dog to kiss on command or to jump into your lap, but it is not fine to claim those tricks alone make him/her a service dog.

"I can't go out alone because of social phobia; my dog makes me feel safe enough to go out to the grocery store and other places I need to go." This describes an emotional support animal, not a psychiatric service animal.

How can you tell the difference between emotional support and psychiatric tasks? Take emotion out of the equation by asking yourself what a robot might do to help you overcome a barrier to performing major life activities. Next ask yourself if a dog might be able to do the same thing. Then ask if a dog could be trained to do that thing.

Sometimes folks want emotional support so they look for a list of service dog tasks to try to justify their ESA as a PSD. This is the backwards way to select tasks and usually results in tasks which will not hold up in court. The courts have told us that tasks must: 1) be trained and not a natural behavior of the dog, 2) must mitigate the person's disability, 3) must be needed by that specific handler. Some examples that don't hold water:

medication reminders for someone who could just as easily check a clock or set a watch alarm
carrying medication for a person who could carry their own medication in a purse or pocket
retrieving a newspaper for someone who doesn't subscribe to a newspaper
public access for a handler whose dog's only task is to wake them, when the person doesn't fall asleep in public (which a person with narcolepsy might actually need help in managing, but most folks would not)
a dog who provides encouragement or affection so a person can take a test or visit a store
an attack dog to protect a victim of assault (see also IAADP's article on PTSD)
Please note that a dog which becomes upset when the handler is upset is not "alerting" to the handler's upset. He is responding to it and doing so in an emotionally unstable way. A psychiatric service dog should be extremely stable and not be drawn into their handler's emotional state, but rather remain calm, thinking, and working in spite of their handler's upset. Vomiting, trying to drag the handler away, and acting up are all indications of emotional distress in the dog. A therapist who joins the disabled person in "freaking out" is not professional, and neither is a service dog who does so. A person in emotional distress needs a solid rock to think clearly for them and guide and help them, be that a therapist or doctor, or service dog. They do not need someone "freaking out" or overly empathizing with them. Remember that the number one reason dogs bite is out of fear not aggression. A dog put into a situation that it is emotionally unable to handle is at risk of biting, something which can result in the dog being declared vicious and put down.

Here are some quotes from US Department of Justice (DOJ) officials on the subject of emotional support animals vs service animals. Note that the DOJ is the federal agency responsible for enforcing title III of the ADA (which is what gives public access rights to persons using service animals).



"The way we look at it is what the regulation says is that a service animal is an animal that's trained to provide services for a person. So something that is just a pet is not, and we try to be broad, because there could be a whole range of services that an animal can be trained to provide, but it has to be trained to do it and it has to be doing services. Because there has been a great deal of misunderstanding and we are told by a number of guide dog users around the country of abuses that are occurring and a backlash that's happening to people with service animals because of it. When we do the regulations that I'm talking about in the fall, we're going to ask questions about this issue and be specific about this. Should emotional support animals be covered by the ADA? Should they be required to be in restaurants? Should they be required to be in public transportation? In our view, they're not covered now unless they are providing a service to the person."

John Wodatch, Chief, Disability Rights Section, Office of Civil
Rights, U.S. Department of Justice
(from July 17, 2001 conference)






"An emotional support animal is not going to be a service animal under the ADA unless it does meet the [task] training requirement."

Phillip L. Breen, Special Legal Counsel, Disability Rights Section,
Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Justice
(from April 16, 2002 conference)



"Generally speaking, if we're talking about therapy, comfort, emotional support animals -- and I think those typically are used interchangeably. Those are not going to be service animals under the ADA because they haven't been trained to -- remember that three-part -- that definition, they haven't been trained to do work or perform a task for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Typically, comfort, emotional support animals by their very presence certainly performs a valuable service, but it's an innate ability. It's their mere presence. It doesn't reach the level of having been trained to do work or perform tasks."

Sally Conway, Disability Rights Section, Office of Civil Rights, U.S.
Department of Justice
(from April 29, 2004 conference)


On the Q&A part of the IAADP web site
NOTE: Owners of emotional support dogs and other non-task trained dogs are ineligible for funding from IAADP's emergency veterinary fund, VCP, and other benefits for working assistance dog teams. See our Membership Category FAQ for a detailed explanation.

 Q. I have an emotional support dog. Why can't I join as a Partner Member to obtain the extra benefits?
A. According to IAADP's bylaws and agreements with corporate sponsors, only dogs who can legally accompany their disabled partners into public places under the Americans with Disabilities Act or equivalent international legislation, are eligible for assistance dog status. The United States Department of Justice uses the term "service animal" to describe this very special kind of dog. Only qualified disabled individuals with assistance dogs are eligible for an assistance dog partner membership. In order to change a dog to service animal status under the ADA, thus entitling the disabled person to public access rights, three things are necessary.
The dog's partner must have a disabling condition severe enough to impair one or more major life functions, as defined by the ADA.
The dog must be trained to perform identifiable physical tasks to mitigate the disability.
The dog must be well behaved and under the control of its handler in public places.
Dogs meeting these criteria are termed "assistance dogs" by IAADP and many other organizations. IAADP recognizes three types: guide dogs for the legally blind, hearing dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing and service dogs who perform trained tasks for people with disabilities other than blindness or deafness.

Both assistance dogs and companion animals such as those labeled emotional support dogs or social therapy dogs can provide comfort, stress relief, increased social interactions and other therapeutic benefits. But that is not enough to legally compel businesses to make an exception to their "no pets allowed" policies.

The rationale for granting public access rights to disabled persons is that their guide, hearing or service dogs function as assistive devices. Just as it would be an act of discrimination to deprive disabled people of their wheelchairs, hearing aids or white canes when they venture out into public, refusing to allow disabled people to rely on their assistance dogs in public places and on public transportation was viewed by legislators as equally deplorable. A service animal / assistance dog who is individually trained to perform tasks to mitigate a disability cannot be treated like a pet by those operating public accommodations. A service animal / assistance dog has been officially classified as a form of assistive technology.

Q. What do you mean by "trained tasks that mitigate a disability?"
A. Concrete examples given by the US Department of Justice in its 2002 FAQ For Businesses of trained Tasks that mitigate disability, include, but are not limited to, guiding the blind, alerting the deaf or hard of hearing to specific sounds in the environment, wheelchair pulling and assisting someone during a seizure in specific ways.

2002 ADA Business BRIEF: Service Animals

This task training is the basis for granting legal access rights to disabled citizens in the USA.
As a general rule, emotional support dogs and social therapy dogs do not receive the necessary training to perform disability mitigating tasks on command or cue that will increase a disabled person's safety or independence.
Thus the owners of such dogs do not qualify for public access rights under ADA. We respect the role that an emotional support dog and other non-task trained dogs have in the lives of disabled individuals. Their owners are welcome to join as IAADP Friend Members.
Only disabled persons who work with task trained assistance dogs can enroll as Partner Members of IAADP, vote in our bi- annual elections and depending on their country, receive additional benefits supporting the assistance dog / human partner relationship.

What are the differences between a service animal, therapy animal, companion animal, and social/therapy animal?

The Difference between Service Animals, Therapy Animals, Companion Animals and "Social/therapy" Animals
Service animals are legally defined (Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990) and are trained to meet the disability-related needs of their handlers who have disabilities. Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. Service animals are not considered "pets."
Therapy animals are not legally defined by federal law, but some states have laws defining therapy animals. They provide people with contact to animals, but are not limited to working with people who have disabilities. They are usually the personal pets of their handlers, and work with their handlers to provide services to others. Federal laws have no provisions for people to be accompanied by therapy animals in places of public accommodation that have "no pets" policies. Therapy animals usually are not service animals.
Companion animal is not legally defined, but is accepted as another term for pet.
"Social/therapy" animals likewise have no legal definition. They often are animals that did not complete service animal or service dog training due to health, disposition, trainability, or other factors, and are made available as pets for people who have disabilities. These animals might or might not meet the definition of service animals.

[glow=green2,300]How does a dog qualify to be a psychiatric service dog?[/glow]

The National Service Dog Center receives many questions about psychiatric service dogs. Generally, the questions are related to what requirements a dog must meet to be classified as a psychiatric service dog.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990, (ADA), defines service animal as:
"any animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability."
The ADA defines a disability as:
"a mental or physical condition which substantially limits a major life activity such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working."
To be considered a service dog, the dog must be trained to perform tasks directly related to the person's disability.
?Comforting" or "giving love", although clinically proven to be beneficial for people, would not be acknowledged as a trained "task" by the Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA

Please read my rant in the "rant here" forum.

It concerns this article!

People with disableing mental illness are being discriminated against in regards to PSD and how tasks are defined!

Diamond Dragon:
This is a very good post and I agree that many misunderstandings occur in regard to the definitions.  It can be hard to justify need over want.  For example;

Initially my SD was trained to remind me when to take my medication.  On the surface, it is true that this could be done with clocks and other visual/timing aids therefore the term SD is not technically lawful.  But this is where the definitions of the law come into place and are to be used as a tool in deciding what is legal or not.

Since ADHD and disassociation, isolation, anxiety and depression from PTSD have affected my sense of time, memory and attention span for many years, and I misplace things such as keys and watches with regularity, it is warranted that I have some type of reminder that could not be forgotten or ignored and that could be taken with me if I would need to take my medication away from home or other places.  In evaluating my needs, I had to take my lifestyle and activities into account.

A few years ago, it was thought that having something such as a Palm Pilot would be beneficial because I was having access issues.  But in evaluating the idea with my counselor we decided it would not be a good idea because when I disassociate or am depressed, I do not hear alarms nor even remember to set them.  And since many of my activities occurred away from utilities, there would be an issue as to how it could be kept charged.

If it were not for the above things having occurred most of my life which in part warranted a diagnosis of "disabled", and my SD not trained to "break" me from disassociation and depression spells(not just nosing me or seeking attention if I am sad), just his being trained to remind me to take my meds is not enough to classify him as a legal Service Dog.

It is also helpful that over the last 13 years, I have had a psychologist and therapist that are legally blind and use guide dogs.  They have been priceless in assisting me with information regarding law and the qualifications that warrant a dog being classified as a Service Dog.


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

Go to full version