If you haven't already, I would advise you read my other discussion where I describe my own experience with MS and how therapy animals have positively affected my dad's mental health while he was struggling with his initial diagnosis.
Although people may view being suggested the option of having any type of service animal a bit degrading, it really is the opposite. Service animals are rather underappreciated, and most people don’t really understand how life-changing having one can be.
But, before considering getting a service animal, you have to consider the different types of service animals. Most of the following information has been supplied by the National Service Animal Registry Company, otherwise known as NSARCO. I had researched ages ago the different types of service animals when I was first considering registering my dog as one. I knew he had to at least fit one category, and it was only a matter of finding which one.
The first type of service animal is regular service animals, which are the most revered. Service animals are most commonly dogs, although can be miniature horses. They are trained to perform major life tasks for patients with severe psychiatric disabilities. Some examples of these psychiatric disabilities are Asthma; Blindness or other visual impairments; Cancer; Cerebral palsy; Depression; Diabetes, Epilepsy; Hearing or speech impairments; Heart Disease; Migraine Headaches; Multiple sclerosis; Muscular dystrophy; Orthopedic impairments; Paralysis; complications from Pregnancy; Thyroid gland disorders; Tuberculosis; loss of body parts. If any of these impairments prevent a person from performing major life tasks such as caring for themselves, manual tasks, eating, sleeping, standing, walking, lifting, reaching, bending, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), 42 U.S.C. 12101, prohibits discrimination on the basis of "disability" in several critical areas. Those areas include:
- State and local government services
- Places of public accommodation
That means that if you own a service dog, you are entitled by federal law to be accompanied by your service dog anywhere a non-disabled person could go.
The next type of service animal is an emotional support animal, or ESA. An ESA is a person's pet that has been prescribed by a person's licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist (any licensed mental health professional). The animal is part of the treatment program for this person and is designed to bring comfort and minimize the negative symptoms of the person's emotional/psychological disability. Any domestic animal may become an ESA, and they do not require any specific training. The only requirement is that the animal must be manageable in public, and not create a nuisance in or out of a household setting. For a person to legally qualify the need for an ESA, they must be considered emotionally disabled by a licensed mental health professional (therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.), as evidenced by a properly formatted prescription letter. Typically, a medical doctor does not qualify because they are not a licensed mental health professional. Some airlines and property managers will accept a verification form completed by a family doctor, however.
- The letter should state that:
- You are currently his/her patient
- Are under their care for the treatment of mental disability found in the DSM IV or V (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 4 or 5).
- Your disability substantially limits at least one major life activity
- He/she prescribes for you an emotional support animal as a necessary treatment for your mental health.
In addition, the letter must be dated, written on his/her letterhead, include his/her license type, number, date of license, and state in which the license was issued.
Your legal protections and rights are The Air Carrier Access Act 49 U.S.C. 41705, Dept. of Transportation 14 C.F.R. Part 382, Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 are the laws that protect an emotionally disabled person and his/her ESA.
The legal protections an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) has are to:
- Fly with its emotionally or psychologically disabled handler in the cabin of an aircraft without being charged a pet fee. Click here for detailed information on Flying with Your Emotional Support Animal.
- Qualify for no-pet housing (that also includes limited size, breed, or species housing) without being charged a pet fee. Click here for detailed information on Housing Rights For You And Your ESA.
No other public or private entity (motels, restaurants, stores, trains, taxis, busses, theatres, parks, beaches, libraries, zoos, etc.) is required to allow your ESA to accompany you and in all other instances, your ESA has no more rights than a pet. That means they aren't protected by law to accompany you into any public place that does not allow pets. That doesn't mean these places won't let you, it just means that they are not required to, by law.
The last type of service animal is a therapy animal. Many people confuse Therapy Animals with Service Dogs. A therapy animal is most commonly a dog (but can be other species) that has been obedience trained and screened for its ability to interact favorably with humans and other animals. The primary purpose of a therapy animal is to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with learning difficulties. Therapy animals are privately owned and tend to visit facilities on a regular basis. A therapy animal is only half of the equation, however. A responsible, caring handler is an important member of the therapy animal team. At the end of a visit, therapy animals go home with their owners. Most commonly, therapy animals are dogs; however, NSAR routinely registers cats, rabbits, and other species that have shown they like people and have the temperament to work with them.
Although therapy animals provide a very important therapeutic service to all kinds of people in need, they are NOT considered "service animals" and they and their handlers have no protections under federal law (ADA, the Fair Housing Act, Air Carrier Access Act, etc.). Some states, however, have laws that afford therapy animals and their handlers rights and protections. Therapy animals may be classified into three different types:
The first (and most common) are "Therapeutic Visitation" animals. These dogs are household pets whose owners take time to visit hospitals, nursing homes, detention facilities, and rehabilitation facilities. Visitation dogs help people who have to be away from home due to mental or physical illness or court order. These people often miss their own pets, and a visit from a visitation animal can brighten the day, lift spirits, and help motivate them in their therapy or treatment with the goal of going home to see their own pets.
Animal Assisted Therapy
The second type of therapy animal is called an "Animal Assisted Therapy" animal. These animals assist physical and occupational therapists in meeting goals important to a person's recovery. Tasks that a dog can help achieve include gaining motion in limbs, fine motor control, or regaining pet care skills for caring for pets at home. Animal Assisted Therapy animal usually work in rehabilitation facilities.
The third type of therapy animal is called a "Facility Therapy Animal". These animals primarily work in nursing homes and are often trained to help keep patients with Alzheimer's disease or other mental illness from getting into trouble. They are handled by a trained member of the staff and live at the facility.
Therapy Animals must:
- Well socialized (exposed to many environments)
THERAPY ANIMALS MUST BE REGISTERED