By Lisa Bloch | Marin IJ correspondent
Lately, there‚Äôs been growing confusion surrounding service and support animals. At Marin Humane, we receive calls almost daily about this topic, so here are a few facts:
SERVICE VS. SUPPORT
A service animal and an emotional support animal are distinctly different. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person‚Äôs disability, like helping to lead someone who‚Äôs visually impaired down a sidewalk or detecting the onset of a seizure in someone with epilepsy and helping that person remain safe.
An emotional support animal provides comfort to people with anxiety, depression or other challenges. They are not trained to perform specific tasks but their presence brings a sense of calmness and security.
The ADA allows for service animals to go anywhere with their person. One cannot demand proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed, and they may only be legally asked two questions: ‚ÄúDo you have a disability that requires a service dog?‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúWhat work or task has the animal been trained to perform?‚ÄĚ
Unlike service animals, emotional support animals cannot go everywhere with their person. It‚Äôs up to the individual establishment as to whether they‚Äôll allow them. The exceptions are housing and air travel. Federal law requires landlords to allow tenants to have emotional support animals and allows them on planes, however the airline can ask for a letter from a mental health professional and reject certain species (as was the case in the news recently involving a woman who wanted to bring her support peacock on a plane) or certain sized animals.
But there‚Äôs no national or state registry for either service or support animals. In regards to service animals, according to the Washington Post, ‚ÄúSome legitimate training programs offer certificates or ID tags, and plenty of shady websites will ‚Äėregister‚Äô a service or support animal for a fee. But these have zero legal significance ‚Ä¶ What‚Äôs important is that the animal is trained to do tasks that help a person with a disability.‚ÄĚ
Similarly anyone can purchase a service animal vest online.
Marin Humane provides ID tags for service dogs only and the handler must complete and sign an affidavit declaring the dog meets the legal requirements for a service dog. Fraudulent representations can result in fines and even jail time.
‚ÄúEven for trained animals, maneuvering through crowds or traveling in confined places like planes can be stressful, but service animals are conditioned not to act out. Untrained animals in those circumstances are prone to misbehave by growling, biting or having accidents,‚ÄĚ a recent article in the New York Times points out.
Therapy animals are trained to interact with lots of people, not an individual. Their handler brings their dog to hospitals, schools, adult daycare centers and other places to provide stress relief and affection. Marin Humane brings dogs and their humans who‚Äôve both gone through a special course to several places throughout the county, but they have been invited by these establishments.
Many believe that the growing use of emotional support animals tends to discredit the use of service animals. It‚Äôs a complex issue for sure and there are documented instances of pet guardians abusing the system for their convenience. We‚Äôve come a long way in recognizing how animals can help humans but as is the case with most things, a few rotten apples can spoil the bunch.
Lisa Bloch is the marketing and communications for Marin Humane, which contributes Tails of Marin articles and welcomes animal-related questions and stories about the people and animals in our community. Go to marinhumane.org, Twitter.com/marinhumane, or email email@example.com.