Understanding Animals for Service, Support and Therapy
- Animals on Campus Are Not Pets
- Understanding Animals for Service, Support and Therapy
I am the owner of two pet dogs.
I am the mother of a son with a disability.
My son has received speech, feeding, occupational, psychological and medication therapy.
We are currently six months into a 15-month journey of training and making payments in order to obtain a service dog for my son. Meet my son’s service dog in training:
This is no easy process. This is one reason I am promoting greater awareness of the difference between service animals and pets. Proper understanding can lead to respect for the animal and the individual, as well as gratitude among those of us who get to choose a dog (or cat or rat or hedgehog) because we desire one and not because it becomes necessary for our quality of life.
The following is my attempt to give basic information about the specially trained animals that serve people with disabilities:
A Service Animal (SA) is a dog or, in very rare cases, a miniature horse, that has been individually trained to provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more of the person’s major life functions.
An SA is an extension of the individual, thus, is allowed access anywhere the handler has access, even if the location typically prohibits dogs or animals. That right is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
An SA is a working animal and not a pet. Please do not approach without the handler’s knowledge or consent. Attempting to pet a working animal could distract the animal from its job.
A service dog is not a nuisance or disruption because it has been highly trained. For example, in a restaurant, this is a dog that will be under the handler’s chair or close by without making noises, without going close to another table or begging for food, or any other behavior I can imagine my pet dog would do if loose in a room full of food.
Emotional Support Animals
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is not a pet either. An ESA is typically a canine or feline. They are covered under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), but not the ADA.
These animals may be permitted in housing that typically denies pets, but they are not a Service Animal and are not allowed access in other areas where animals are prohibited, such as restaurants. They can be walked on a leash, abiding by the same laws and city ordinances as any other pet or animal.
On campus, the difference is clear. An SA can accompany its owner in class, in a dining area, a student common area, etc., and is protected by law, whereas an ESA is specific to the dwelling of the individual to whom it is prescribed and is only protected by the FHA if the owner has first submitted the appropriate paperwork for housing accommodation approval.
Therapy animals are awesome, but they are not protected by any laws and have nothing in common with an ESA or SA because they are trained to be petted by groups of people. You can find therapy animals in nursing homes, in areas of some hospitals, in foster homes, in the library at Angelo State during finals week to help students and others reduce or cope with the stress.
A therapy dog and handler are a team. Handlers must be approved as calming, comforting presences along with their well-trained therapy animals. Therapy animals have no rights to go anywhere that any other animal is prohibited except by invitation by a specific group or residence or event and are only available for a specified amount of time.