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Posted July 28, 2017 | 5:13 PM

Pets with a Purpose

Service Animals Provide Independence, Emotional Support

July is Disability Awareness Month, set aside as a time to highlight the services that are available to people with disabilities and identify ways to help them remain independent by creating opportunities for inclusion.

Many people with disabilities have service animals that enhance their independence and quality of life.

Recently, mental health professionals recognized the benefits dogs and other animals bring to individuals who need emotional or stress relief. The new practice of emotional and therapy dogs fits in the same category as service animals.

What is the difference between service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs?

Service animals are defined as dogs that are highly trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. This type of human-canine partnership is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Air Carrier Access Act, Fair Housing Act and the Federal Rehabilitation Act. These laws ensure that dogs have access to public facilities, airlines, businesses, and no-pets apartments/condos. Strangers should not interact with service dogs because it could distract the animal and could harm to the person with a disability.

Unlike service animals, who are protected by the ADA and allowed in public facilities, emotional support animals are not required to be trained to do a specific job, but instead help individuals with emotional needs by providing comfort and support. This partnership helps individuals who may suffer from depression, anxiety, or debilitating stress. Also, an emotional support animal is not limited to a dog, but can be a cat, bird, turtle, rabbit, or even a horse. Similar to service dogs, emotional support animals are protected by the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act.

Therapy dogs are trained for a specific purpose: to bring affection and comfort to individuals, primarily in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and other facilities. The role of therapy dogs vary depending on the need, and usually are accompanied by a handler and are extremely sociable.

Although different, service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs are incredibly useful in the treatment of various disabilities, both physical and mental. Many say that what makes dogs great companions are their special intuition that allows them to know when a person is hurting emotionally, physically, or has a disability.

For more information about service animals or the Americans with Disabilities Act contact the Hillsborough County ADA Liaison at (813) 276-8401.