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Recently, there has been controversy regarding service and support animals and where they are allowed. As it stands today, certain airlines have banned breeds like “pit bull types” and others have barred goats, hedgehogs, non-household birds and insects as support or service dogs.
Why are the airlines cracking down? First, because too many people are pretending their pets are service or support animals even when they are not. Second, according to American Airlines, the number of pets being transported via airplane has risen by 40% in the last two years.
There is much confusion about the difference between support, therapy and service dogs. We have called upon the experts to understand the nuances and overcome the misconceptions.
What is a Service Dog?
According to the American with Disabilities Act “is specifically task-trained to help an individual with a disability that substantially limits one or more life activities. Disabilities may include visual difficulties, hearing impairments, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), seizures, ambulatory issues, mental illness, autism, and more.” These dogs are task trained to perform duties that people can’t perform because of their impairment.
The training for service dogs is very intense and the type of training depends on the work that the service dogs will provide. These dogs may retrieve items for their owner, provide physical support for balance problems, carry medicine in a specialized back pack, alert an owner or emergency personnel to a medical crisis, and even interrupt panic attacks.
There are three main types of service dogs:
· Guide dogs for the visually impaired to navigate their surroundings
· Hearing dogs to alert deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals to important sounds
· Service dogs to help people with disabilities
Many different breeds can be trained to be services dogs. Depending on the level of expertise needed, a service dog can take between 1 – 5 years to train and cost $25,000 plus if trained by a professional organization. Individuals can train their own service dog, but they must be able to pass the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test which evaluates the ability of the dog to be an appropriate, unobtrusive helpmate in public.
If you see a service dog in public, resist the urge to pet him – he is on duty.
What is a Therapy Dog?
A therapy dog is a volunteer who often brings joy and a calming influence at hospitals, schools, nursing homes and disaster areas. There are many organizations that certify therapy dogs but unlike service dogs, they are not required by law to be certified. Because they do not perform specific tasks, therapy dogs do not have the same access or legal protection that service dogs do. However, some organizations may require them to be certified or registered with a therapy organization.
Therapy dogs can be any breed and are usually calm and friendly with strangers.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
According to the American Kennel Club, to be legally considered an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) “the pet needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness.” Generally, a therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist decides that a pet would help with the mental health of a patient, easing anxiety, depression and phobias by providing a calming presence.
Unlike service dogs that have access to anywhere where the public goes, ESAs can’t. Service animals can only be dogs, but ESAs can be any domesticated animal, including dogs, cats, ferrets and more. To be allowed in the cabin of an aircraft, airlines require documentation stating that the person has a disability and the reason the person needs the animal to travel with them.
It is important not to pass dogs that are not true service dogs off as legitimate service dogs. It does a disservice to disabled individuals who truly need a service dog to function and can expose the public to animals that are not trained to handle the stresses present in public spaces.