Emotional Support Animal


Pets are known to decrease stress and anxiety levels in their owners. Every animal, be it a dog or turtle, provides emotional support to its owner. Yet, out of all animals, dogs are the most loyal and human-oriented. Their willingness to please people ensures strong emotional connection and lasting relations with handlers.

Different Dog Roles

Dogs play a significant role in our lives — that’s why we provide them with specific tasks, jobs even. By the way, do you know the difference between an emotional support dog, a service dog, and a therapy dog? Yes, these are separate roles that require different approaches to training. These terms are often used interchangeably, which is a mistake.

The Duty of a Service Dog

The purpose of service dogs is to help people with disabilities. From puppyhood, they are individually trained to do work or perform tasks instead of their human partner (or partners). Though service animals are not considered pets, very often a person with a disability and a service animal create a strong bond with each other. Properly trained assistant animals are much more than companions or pets — they have responsible jobs, on which their handler’s safety depends.

For example, a service dog can be trained to detect the onset of a seizure in people with epilepsy and help them remain safe. These animals are called seizure response dogs. Other roles of service animals include:

  • guide dogs for the blind
  • mobility assistance dogs for wheelchair-bound people
  • hearing dogs for people with hearing impairment
  • diabetes assistance dogs who can detect blood sugar changes by scent
  • mental health service animals for individuals who struggle with panic disorders, PTSD, autism, depression, or other mental disability.

Service dogs have access to all public places, which is not the case with other categories of assistance animals. According to federal law, emotional support animals and therapy dogs are not classified as service animals.

Unfortunately, people often try to pass their animals off as service dogs. Sometimes it even gets difficult to prove that a person is not faking. Such unethical and immoral actions ruin it for people who truly need a service animal.

Therapy Dogs and their Role

Therapy dogs and their owners visit nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, rehabilitation centers, and schools to help people get better by providing psychological or physiological therapy. These animals can support disabled children who learn to read, actively participate in physical rehabilitation or provide emotional comfort to senior people.

Therapy dogs have friendly demeanors and gladly allow everyone to pet and hug them. Of course, they require special training which accustoms them to interact with many people and provide therapeutic benefits to individuals who experience various health challenges. A therapy dog must meet certain standards and possess a certificate that confirms the completed training. In the eyes of the law, they do not have the same rights as service dogs and are not allowed in all public places.

Therapy dogs and emotional support animals do not fall into the same category. Whereas therapy animals attend people from various institutions, emotional support dogs are meant to improve their owners’ mental health.

The Purpose of Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support dogs, as the name suggests, provide comfort to people who deal with various emotional disabilities. A dog’s soothing presence and unconditional love for its handler help a person cope with various mental disorders.

Typically, an emotional support animal needs no special training and doesn’t have to perform specific tasks. This is one of the reasons why an emotional support animal does not have access to all public areas. However, a handler can take such a dog on a plane, as long as an official letter from licensed mental health professionals is provided, in confirmation that you need an assistance animal.

Emotional Support Animal and The Fair Housing Act

Emotional support animals cannot accompany their handlers to all public areas. However, many people use these animals as workarounds when it comes to no-pet housing. According to the Fair Housing Act, a landlord should provide a so-called “reasonable accommodation” to those who have a support dog. Such accommodation accepts assistance animals, including those who provide emotional support, even if a lease restricts pets.

No wonder people often abuse the use of support animals, and housing authorities are very well aware of this. As it has been said, there is no specific certificate or training program for emotional support dogs. Yet, your landlord may require legal documentation from a licensed mental health professional, which confirms that your pet is an emotional support animal.

How to Choose an Assistance Animal

Whereas all dog breeds are great in their own way, a person who has special needs should carefully approach the issue of choosing a companion. Depending on the breed, an animal may not be suitable for one of the discussed roles. For example, a service dog should not only be calm and confident but also big enough to assist someone with a disability.

Choosing an Emotional Support Animal

If you need an emotional support animal, carefully choose the breed of your furry companion. The dog should be devoted to you, easily trainable, and responsive to your emotional state. Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Collie, Yorkshire Terrier, and Corgi make perfect assistance animals. They are affectionate, intelligent, gentle, and friendly. Their desire to please the owner makes them perfect for the role.

Remember that each animal is a unique being with its own personality. Dogs can do wonders for us, so we should respect and cherish them for such amazing ability to love humans unconditionally and effectively pull us out of the most severe depression.