Therapy Dogs, Service Dogs, Emotional Service Animals...What's the Difference?!
Therapy Dog (aka "The Canine Co-Therapist") - This well-mannered, affectionate dog pairs up with their owner/handler to provide support during the pursuit of the identified client's therapeutic goals. Some handler-dog teams volunteer in nursing homes and other facilities, and the dogs interact with residents and provide them with comfort and affection. Other handler-dog teams with a mental health background will incorporate animal-assisted interventions into their work to meet clearly-defined treatment goals (e.g. increasing emotion regulation, learning assertiveness skills, etc.). These dogs are NOT afforded any special privileges- they cannot go into establishments with their owner without permission, nor are they exempt from housing policies. This dog's job is to help OTHERS, and not their owner.
Service Dog (aka "Helper with Four Paws")- This dog receives intensive, customized training to mitigate some of the limitations imposed upon a person by their disability, affording them greater safety and independence. The disability can be visible (e.g. a missing limb) or invisible (e.g. PTSD). This person/dog team are afforded protections under the ADA, and can go into any establishment, including hospitals, planes, restaurants, etc, and cannot be denied housing based on exclusionary pet/breed policies. With that said, if the dog is being disruptive, the person/dog team can be asked to leave. This dog's job is to help their OWNER, not others. PTDC does NOT provide any service relating to service dogs.
Emotional Service Animal (ESA) (aka "Supportive Pet")- These animals have likely not received any specialized training, but provide love and comfort to their person during times of stress. While the ADA does not grant owners of emotional support animals the right to be accompanied by these animals in establishments that do not permit pets, the Fair Housing Act does allow for disabled owners of emotional support animals to reside in housing that has a “No Pets” policy, as a reasonable accommodation. With that said, ESAs are still subject to breed-specific policies. The Air Carrier Access Act also allows those with proof of a disability (a letter from a primary care provider and/or therapist) the accommodation of being accompanied by an emotional support animal. This dog's job is to help their OWNER, not others. PTDC does NOT provide any service relating to ESAs.
Other important things to note:
There is no "official" national/international registry for service dogs or ESAs. There is a predatory market out there that sells IDs, vests, provider letters, and other gear and promises "service dog certification" and all of the related privileges, but this is ABSOLUTELY a scam.
Recently, communities have been flooded with "fake" service dogs. In these situations, individuals buy the products mentioned above and/or feign the presence of a disability in an attempt to benefit from the special privileges of having a service dog/ESA. There are many reasons for doing so, including wanting to take their dog everywhere, trying to fly for cheaper, or to subvert housing policies. If you are considering passing your dog off as a service animal, please consider how these actions negatively impact individuals with disabilities.
Please DO NOT pet service dogs. This distracts them from their critically important job, which puts their person at risk.
Dedicated to the enhancement of animal assisted therapy.