This topic has been especially relevant to me lately. Two separate times in the past month, this has come up. I want to clarify that emotional support animals and service dogs are not the same thing. In fact, they aren’t in the same realm.
Emotional support animals are exactly what they sound like. They provide emotional support. The only rights they have are to live in buildings that don’t allow pets. They have absolutely no public access rights. Why is this? To qualify to be an ESA your animal requires no training. They are simply approved by your mental health professional or a medical professional. If you register them online, you’re likely wasting your money. There is no official registry in the USA. This goes for service animals as well.
When you bring your UNTRAINED ANIMAL into public and pass them off as a service animal you are doing harm.
My service dog is trained for mobility assistance and medical alerts. He has literally saved my life. Without him, I could have died. There are two things that need to be explained here. First, it’s incredibly rude to assume my dog is an emotional support animal. Not all disabilities are visible. When you assume that someone is bringing an ESA it discounts the legitimacy of the team. They have probably been working together for a significant time period. This assumption can also cause people to deny public access rights inappropriately.
If you don’t know, ask. When I say this, you only have the right to ask if I’m going somewhere where you work or it’s your business. If you are a patron of an establishment and you start asking me questions, that is also rude. The reason it’s important to distinguish an ESA from an SD is because people often try to bring ESA’s in public. If you are working and aren’t sure, you legally can ask a handler two questions. “Is this a service dog?” and “What service do they provide?” It doesn’t go beyond this.
I want to clarify that there are psychiatric service dogs that are trained. They can intervene in panic attacks or different disorders. This is something I don’t know a ton about but there are great resources to understand them better. The important thing to note is that these are trained behaviors. They are there to respond or even alert to those things. They are not simply providing a sense of comfort to their handlers.
I want to hit a couple key things for people who don’t interact with service dogs:
- It’s rude to stare
- Don’t ask to pet my dog, you wouldn’t ask to sit in someone’s wheelchair
- Don’t assume a dog is an ESA but if you suspect it is, ask whether it is a service dog or not
- You should deny access to ESA’s, they SHOULDN’T be there
- Be polite! Talking about someone’s dog in front of them can be hurtful and uncomfortable for the handler
I hope your day is filled with positivity, joy, and laughter. I hope you find peace, love, and happiness.