You may have heard of each of these terms and thought of them as the same, but they are in fact different. Each of these types of service animals (the umbrella term used for these three types of animals) help people in different ways and have a certain legislature that applies to them differently, so it's important to know the distinctions. Additionally, if you are looking for a service animal, knowing the differences between them can help you decide which would be best suited for your needs.
Service dogs are specially trained to perform tasks to benefit an individual with a disability, including physical, psychiatric, and other mental disabilities. Service dogs can be trained to perform a variety of tasks, from turning on a light switch to detecting the start of a psychiatric episode. There are specific types of service dogs that are trained for specific needs, including Guide Dogs for people who are blind and Psychiatric Service Dogs for people with mental illness, just to name a couple.
Though you have probably only heard of therapy dogs, there are other animals that can be therapy animals as well, like cats. Unlike service dogs, these animals do not go through specialized training to assist only one person. Rather, they simply provide comfort and affection with their presence and spirit in therapeutic settings. These places include hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and wherever people may be going through a difficult time.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
Many people think of therapy animals as the same as ESAs, but there is indeed a difference. ESAs are similar to therapy animals in that they both provide comfort and emotional support and do not undergo special training. However, emotional support animals must be declared as beneficial for someone with a mental health condition by a professional. Another significant difference between ESAs and therapy animals is that ESAs are recognized and covered by the Fair Housing Act, which allows people to have ESAs in their home, even if there is a no-pet policy.
Hopefully, this sheds some light on the differences between service dogs, therapy animals, and emotional support animals. While all of these service animals are important in helping people physically and emotionally, they each have their own ways of doing so, and knowing their differences can help you in finding which kind best fits you and your needs.
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Mental Health America: https://screening.mhanational.org/content/how-do-i-get-service-animal
American Disabilities Act: https://adata.org/guide/service-animals-and-emotional-support-animals
U.S. Service Animals: https://usserviceanimals.org/blog/what-is-a-therapy-dog/