Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals
For thousands of years, animals have been faithful companions to humans. They have brought compassion, assistance and protection when needed, and in return asked for nothing. In most homes where pets are present, the most common ones are dogs and cats. While cats are popular, it is dogs that have proven to be man’s best friend over the years. Because of this, they have been used in many roles including service animals and as emotional support animals. While many people assume they are one and the same, there are vast differences between the two types.
Service dogs are ones seen most often by people, usually in public settings like retail stores or offices. The breeds of dogs used most as service dogs include Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds, usually due to their intelligence and ability to be trained easier than other breeds. A service animal such as this has usually been trained for several years prior to being placed with an owner, allowing the trainer to make sure the dog will be a good fit with the person. These dogs are able to do many tasks for their owner, such as cutting light switches on and off, alerting them if the phone is ringing, opening and closing doors and other common tasks. Generally, service dogs are used by people with physical disabilities or by autistic children, making them an invaluable friend to those in need.
In contrast, emotional support animals are not specially trained to perform certain functions. Instead, they are simply there to provide companionship, affection and act as a non-judgmental friend. An emotional support dog must be fully toilet trained, have no bad habits such as loud barking that would disturb others and be generally well-behaved. While usually taken only places where pets are allowed, an emotional support dog can be taken aboard aircraft when flying as well as be kept in housing that usually does not allow pets. Most often kept by disabled or elderly people, these dogs are assigned to people when a doctor has determined the person who has a disabling mental illness would benefit from the companionship and support the animal would provide on a daily basis.
While these dogs play very different roles with their owners, the one thing they share is bringing a level of joy and companionship to people’s lives that allows them to live each day with respect and dignity.