There seems to be controversy surrounding the role of animals in the lives of chronically ill and disabled people. Here we will be looking at the major differences between an ESA and a service dog.
To have a service dog, a person must be disabled. For instance, needing reading glasses owing to weak eyesight is impairment, but being unable to see without glasses is a disability. Mental illness is impairment, but failing to function on a minimal level due to mental illness is a disability. Individuals with a mental illness or impairment may be prescribed an emotional support animal. However, only those who are disabled due to a mental illness will qualify for a service dog.
An emotional support animal is a companion animal prescribed by a medical professional to an individual with mental impairment. ESAs, usually dogs, but sometimes birds, cats, or other animals, may be also be used by people who have a range of intellectual, physical or psychiatric disabilities. An emotional support animal does not require any special training and is most of the time registered by its owner since it brings him emotional comfort. In other instances, a doctor prescribes the ESA to an individual so it would have a therapeutic effect on the patient.
These animals are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and therefore cannot accompany their owners to establishments where animals are forbidden, such as restaurants and public buildings. However, owners who have their ESAs registered are allowed to keep them even in housing facilities that do not allow pets, as per the Fair Housing Act. An emotional support dog, as the name suggests, is there for someone who has emotional needs. These dogs are often referred to as “therapy dogs” as they make the handler feel better, less anxious and stressed out.
ESAs require a particular prescription letter from a licensed mental health professional, which helps the handler travel with his or her ESA. Therapy dogs are restricted to nursing homes, hospitals, and other medical facilities to cheer up their handler or other residents.
On the other hand, service dogs are among the most trained and protected type of dogs, and are often referred to as “service animals”. These dogs are deemed as medical equipment by the law and have an equivalent price tag, ranging from around $10,000 to $50,000. They are trained intensively for about 1.5 years to 2 years, and also have to pass a range of tests to become serviceable including, but not limited to, picking up dropped items, opening cupboards, staying calm in public, and much more.
Under the ADA, service dogs are permitted anywhere their owner is and cannot be turned away from any housing or unaccepted from working with their handler. These service dogs are trained to do things that actually alleviate a person’s disability. Their exact function is not to provide affection or security, but manage some tasks that the handler cannot do for himself.
Examples include guiding deaf, blind or people pulling a wheelchair, alerting people when they are having a seizure or when mentally ill individuals forget to their prescribed medicine. A service dog is also responsible for calming people with PTSD when they are under attack.
Legally, for a dog to qualify as a service dog, the owner must have a genuine document stating his or her disability. As stated by the ADA, a service dog is strictly kept with the purpose of reducing a handler’s symptoms of disability and should not disrupt the environment.