Service Animal or Emotional Support Animal – What’s the Difference?

Service and emotional support animals are becoming more and more common. The last time I flew to Kansas, in the Dallas Fort worth airport I counted at least three dogs that the owners kept near and one service dog helping its handler to maneuver through the crowds safely. It seems more and more people are realizing the benefits of having an animal in their life. A bakery in Morro Bay has a whole display case full of doggie treats so people who are vacationing can purchase something yummy for their dog as they sip their coffee and have a sweet roll.

When we opened the Terraces at Sierra View Homes Retirement Community, we decided to become pet friendly. That was a game changer for many people looking for a pet-friendly retirement community. As of today, we have had numerous dogs (must be small dogs) cats, birds and a bunny living in the apartments.

So, what is the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal? A service dog is trained to do specific tasks for the disabled person assigned to them. The disability could be physical, sensory, psychotic, intellectual or other mental disability. Only a dog can be a service animal no other animal can be considered a service animal according to the ADA.

A service dog can be trained to assist an individual who is blind or has low vision and navigating streets are difficult. They can alert someone who is deaf to the presence of people or sounds. Pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, and retrieving items such as medicine are a few of the things a well-trained dog can do. Each service dog is trained specifically for the person who will receive the dog.

Service animals are usually allowed in most public areas as long as the dog is under control. A service animal must have a harness, leash or other tether, unless the handler can control the animal by voice commands or hand signals.

If the animal barks, growls or jumps on individuals, the dog and the owner will have to leave the area. Service dogs help disabled people live a more satisfying lifestyle and helps their handler to live an independent life.

Service dogs are important and have a real purpose but what does an emotional support animal do? Unlike the service dogs there is no formal training to be an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals can be cats, dogs, ducks, and the list goes on. These animals’ primary role is to provide companionship and comfort to their partners who may be suffering from psychological disorders. The psychological disorders could be PTSD, chronic depression, loneliness, or anxiety. Emotional support animals give unconditional love proven beneficial to many people.

The advantage of owning a pet or emotional support animal is the need to care for it gives incentive to get up in the morning. Stroking, holding, cuddling, or otherwise touching a loving animal can have a powerful effect in lowering blood pressure. Touch and movement are two healthy ways to deal with stress. Pets encourage playfulness, laughter, and exercise. Laughing at the antics of a playful pet helps you enjoy life with a sense of well-being. Studies show playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine which calms and relaxes us.

I expect to see more and more service dogs and emotional support animals in my travels and here at Sierra View Homes Retirement Community. I meet and greet residents, who brought their pets when they moved into the Community as they are walking their pets and enjoying the day. Animals do bring a sense of fun as Sassy, the cat, chases after her toy, or Sierra, the bird, tweets out a song, and the therapy dog make rounds just to say “hi.” Be it a service dog or an emotional support animal, more and more people are realizing the benefits of owning and loving a pet.