As pet lovers, we know the positive impact animals have on humans. Dogs, in particular, have not only the ability to make us feel loved on our worst days but also the potential to be trained to actually improve the lives of people with disabilities and even perform life-saving tasks. These specially trained dogs are known as service dogs. They are legally recognized by the ADA as an acceptable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Service dogs can help people with disabilities perform everyday tasks and many are also trained to assist during a medical event such as a seizure so that people with disabilities can lead independent lives.

Most service dogs are specially trained to assist with specific disabilities. For instance, a guide service dog is trained to travel with a person with severe visual impairments. Service dogs are not limited to only people with physical disabilities. They help people with psychiatric, sensory and intellectual disabilities, too. Service dogs may help people with a mental disability remember to take their medication or alert a person with autism when they are using repetitive behavior (like flapping hands). Legally recognized service animals are limited to canines only.

Emotional support animals are not limited to dogs only but they are limited to how much and where they can give their handler support. Emotional support dogs are often prescribed by therapists to aid in the medical treatment of certain mental conditions including depression, anxiety, and phobias. These animals provide companionship and soothing support to help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, but they are not specially trained like service dogs and they are not recognized by the ADA as an acceptable legal accommodation for people with disabilities. Beware of scammers who advertise emotional support pets as ADA recognized service animals. These animals likely have had no training and should not come with the costs of purchasing a service dog.

How do I choose between a service dog or emotional support animal?

If you have disabilities that impact your ability to perform everyday tasks or suffer from a condition such as epilepsy in which you need medical assistance, you need an ADA recognized service dog that is specially trained to meet your needs. If you are undergoing treatment for anxiety, depression or a like illness but do not need assistance to perform your job or daily tasks, you would find all the benefits you need from an emotional support animal.

What do service dogs and emotional support animals have in common?

Aside from helping humans get through life, many service dogs and emotional support animals share one other factor in common–they often began life as a shelter pet!

That’s right! Shelter dogs often find a new purpose and lease on life when they are selected to undergo service dog training. Likewise, many other shelter pets get more than just a forever home when they’re adopted. They also get to provide love, comfort, and companionship to their new human.