The Difference Between Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

Many people are employing the help of emotional support and service animals. However, there is a difference between the two.

An emotional support animal is a companion that provides therapeutic support to someone who has either a mental or psychiatric disability. These animals are often part of a bigger treatment plan for an individual with medical or emotional needs. Animals can help people in a variety of ways. Some help combat loneliness, depression or even phobias. Since these types of animals aren’t limited to people who have special needs, they are not covered by federal laws. However, under the “Fair Housing Act”, communities with a “no pets” policy should be reasonably accommodating to the individual with an emotional support animal. Most domestic animals will qualify as an emotional support companion. Cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, snakes and even mini pigs are all examples of animals that can be considered for emotional support.

Service animals are different in that they are trained to perform a task or set of tasks to help an individual who has special needs. The majority of the time service animals are dogs. They can be trained to guide someone who is blind, fetch items, and assist in pulling a wheelchair or even alert a person who is having a seizure. These dogs can accompany an individual in places that pets aren’t usually allowed. Service animals are for people who have some sort of special need and are trained to perform a task. They can also serve as emotional support animals, but not all emotional support animals are trained in a way that qualifies them as a service animal.

For more information and resources on planning for your loved one with special needs, browse through our website at specialneedsforum.org.

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