I want to talk to you all about something that can be a confusing topic... The differences between Emotional Support Animals, Therapy Animals, Crisis Response Animals, and Service Animals. Let's get started!
Emotional Support Animals
ANY animal can be an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). Their job is to comfort their owner, one person, and can be for a variety of reasons such as anxiety, PTSD, depression, etc. The biggest trouble with this category is that it requires no training, no registration, no licensing, no insurance, and no evaluation whatsoever. As a result, the ESA classification is HUGELY abused. All you have to do is do an online search and there are countless sites that will give you a ESA certificate for a fee. This can be an enormous problem when people take these animals out in public and the poor animal becomes the one who is traumatized. This can create situations that lead to aggressive behavior such as biting. Mom has seen this many times. ESAs are NOT allowed in places like restaurants and are not protected in the same manner as Service Animals are. In our opinion, EVERY loved pet is an Emotional Support Animal!
Crisis Response Animals
Mom and I were one of the very first Animal-Assisted Crisis Response Teams to use a cat in the entire United States! Only dogs and cats can be in this category and they must be similar to Therapy Animals in that they are trained to perform Animal-Assisted Therapy but the animals who qualify for this work are the cream of the crop. The animals in these teams must achieve a rating that says they will be unshaken by going into situations that could go beyond the controlled environments of a business or school. The handlers in these teams have to complete additional training involving how to assist victims and First Responders in stressful situations ranging from fires, earthquakes, flood, hurricanes, tornados, civil unrest, and even domestic violence and abuse. Mom even had to complete additional training and pass tests from FEMA!
Service Animals serve one person only by performing tasks that the owner cannot do themselves. By law, Service Animals can only be dogs, miniature horses and believe it or not (while rare)... Monkeys. These animals go through lengthy and rigorous training and the animals themselves can carry a price tag of over $10,000 (USD) once that training is complete. Service Animals can go anywhere their owners go and that is protected by law. Unfortunately, there are FAR TOO MANY people who go online and buy a vest for their very untrained, unclean, unsocialized dog to go with them out in public. The good news is that some states have made it against the law to misrepresent an animal as a Service Animal. When you see a Service Animal out in public, you should NEVER pet or distract it in any way. There have been multiple cases where a distracted Service Dog missed its owner having a seizure, or other episode, that the dog is trained to catch and alert the owner. In these cases, the outcomes can quickly become life threatening.
Pet Partners - www.petpartners.org
Love On A Leash - www.loveonaleash.org
* Some of this information is specific to Pet Partners and our participation as an Animal-Assisted Therapy Team with them.