If you have recently flown somewhere, it is likely that you have seen people traveling with animals for emotional support (ESA for short). They seem to be everywhere, and yet there is great confusion and controversy about the role they play. Sometimes people will mistakenly call them therapeutic or service dogs, but these are completely different things. In this post, I hope to help you understand the difference between ESA, Therapy and Service Dogs.
Emotional Support Animals (ESA)
Emotional support Animals provide comfort to a mentally ill person. ESAs have a special permit to fly within the United States or between the United States and most countries (pending approval by the airline). Travelers with ESA usually need to show a recent letter from a doctor or therapist stating that the animal needs emotional support for their patient’s well-being.
Each airline has its own policies regarding emotional support animals and they become quite strict. Most carriers require prior notice and documents. Now, due to the increase in misbehaving ESAs, passengers may need to provide information on basic animal training, health and hygiene.
Some airlines recommend emotional support. Animals wear seat belts indicating that they are ESA. The harness should make it clear that they do not travel as pets or service dogs. Regardless of identification, the emotional support animal does not allow access to restaurants, public buildings or shops, which usually do not allow pets.
UPDATE: At the end of 2020, the Ministry of Transport revised the Air Carrier Access Act. Earlier, the law required US airlines to give emotional support animals the same rights as trained service animals. The updated Air Carrier Access Act allows airlines to treat ESAs as pets. Carriers can now impose a fee, impose size restrictions and require pets in the cabin to remain in a carrier under the seat.
Dogs for therapy
Unlike emotional support animals, which help only one person, therapy dogs give comfort to many by volunteering in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and more. however, most facilities require testing and certification by an accredited organization. Therapist dogs do not have special rights related to travel or accommodation. They are also not allowed to enter restaurants or shops, which are usually forbidden for pets.
Service dogs receive specialized training to help a person with a disability. Under the Disability Americans Act, it is illegal to ask what function a service dog performs. Unlike emotional animals or therapy dogs, they have full access to places that are not usually open to pets. Needless to say, it is also wrong to say that your pet is a service dog, even if it is your ESA or therapy dog.
The difference between ESA, therapy and service dogs
It is important to understand (and respect) the difference between ESA, therapy and service dogs. Louis travels with me as an animal for emotional support, helping with my anxiety. Sometimes he volunteers as a therapy dog, visiting people with disabilities on a weekly basis. Louis is NOT a service dog and is not allowed to enter restaurants or shops that do not allow pets.
I hope this post has helped clarify the difference between emotional support animals, therapy and service dogs. This is a confusing and sometimes controversial topic, so I welcome your feedback. Also, feel free to share this post and fix the chart below to help keep others informed.