Do Service Dogs Have the Same Legal Protections as Therapy Dogs?

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Several years ago, the term “service dog” was a broad term. Someone who was living with a disability had a specially trained dog to assist him or her with activities of daily living (ADLS), allowing the person to live more independently. Recently, however, two more distinct animal designations have emerged to address the population’s rising need of assistance from animals – therapy animals and emotional support animals (ESAs). It is important to know that certain laws apply to service animals, therapy animals, and ESAs. Below we will look at all three to understand the differences.

Service Dogs

A service animal (SA), according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is an animal specifically trained to do work or perform the tasks for the benefit of someone with a disability. This includes physical, psychiatric, sensory, intellectual or other mental disabilities. A service animal must be a dog. The only other animals that can be designated as service animals are miniature horses, and only under special circumstances. Tasks that are performed by an SA must be tailored to the owner’s disability and the dog must have received specialized training tailored to assist with disabilities. Notably, a service dog cannot be denied entry into an establishment; this is prohibited by law. An employee of an establishment is not allowed to ask about an individual’s disability, nor can they demand documentation or request the service dog perform a task.

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Therapy Animals

A therapy animal (TA) is not required to undergo specialized training like service dogs are. TAs also do not have to be dogs, they can be any type of animal intended to bring comfort to others. TAs are typically trained to work in environments in which they will work with several people during a single session. It is important to understand that a letter from a physician is not sufficient to turn a TA or ESA into a service dog.

Emotional Support Animals

Similar to therapy animals, emotional support animals need not have specialized training like service dogs. An ESA is usually trained to be used by only one person. ESAs have a legal protection that a therapy dog does not — they are given exceptions when it comes to housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). In other words, a homeowner or renter should not have to pay an additional fee to have an ESA in the home. That being said, a landlord can charge a security deposit in the event the animal damages the home. Landlords may also request documentation verifying the ESA owner’s disability.

Notably, a service dog cannot be denied entry into an establishment; this is prohibited by law.

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With the recent trend of “support” animals and their prohibition at locations splashed across national newspapers, it can be confusing to understand what your rights are under the law. If you or someone you know has a service dog, therapy animal, or emotional support animal and wants to understand your rights, contact the attorneys at Bogin, Munns & Munns, P.A.and schedule your consultation.


NOTICE: The article above is not intended to serve as legal advice, and you should not rely on it as such. It is offered only as general information. You should consult with a duly licensed attorney regarding your Florida legal matter, as every situation is unique. Please know that merely reading this article, subscribing to this blog, or otherwise contacting Bogin, Munns & Munns does not establish an attorney-client relationship with our firm. Should you seek legal representation from Bogin, Munns & Munns, any such representation must first be agreed to by the firm and confirmed in a written agreement.

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