Service Animals

Pets can provide a great level of support, and some have the amazing ability to assist individuals with disabilities or those in need of emotional support.  Traditional service animals are limited to dogs and miniature horses that are trained to assist individuals with a specific need. These animals are afforded special protections through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Recently, pets have been utilized to help individuals in other ways, including emotional support. However, these animals serve a different purpose and do not receive the same access granted by the ADA.

Service Animals

The service animal designation is limited to dogs and miniature horses; these are working animals, not pets.  These animals go through rigorous training before receiving official certification and being placed with an individual with physical disabilities.

As stated by the ADA, these animals are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.”  Only certified service animals are protected under the ADA and can enter establishments that serve food even if local health codes do not allow it.

Emotional Support Animals

Most domesticated animals can be designated as an emotional support pet, and can be prescribed as a part of a psychological treatment program.  While these animals provide a specific service, they do not go through training or certification, and therefore are not given the same ADA access.  According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) (, Emotional Support Animals do not have full public access rights; they can only enter businesses that allow pets, fly with individuals needing their support, and they qualify for no-pet housing.  Since they lack full ADA protection, they cannot be brought into grocery stores or facilities that serve food.

Therapy Animals

The AKC classifies therapy animals as pets that have received some training, like Canine Good Citizen programs before taking a therapy dog test.  These programs teach pets advanced obedience, and with the help of their human partner they can offer comfort and support. These animals volunteer with their handlers in places like assisted living facilities.  Therapy animals do not have special access privileges but may be invited into facilities that benefit from their service.


On their website at the ADA provides clarity on the service animal program and requirements.  They point out that “Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.” 

Under ADA regulations, any service animal that is properly harnessed and under the owner’s control must be allowed in all areas where the public would normally go, including establishments that serve food. This access only applies to certified service animals; emotional support and therapy animals are not afforded the same access because they have not completed the same certification and training process.  Both the ADA and AKC have great information on their websites regarding each classification and the service animal programs.

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