When Is A Pet A Working Pet?

A Comprehensive Review Of The Classification Of Assistance Animals

Stephanie Bond- Citizens Journal Contributor

Working pets provide many different things to many different people. Service dogs provide assistance to those with some form of disability. Therapy animals are used in communal spaces like hospitals and schools and offer affection, comfort, and companionship. Emotional support animals are usually owned by individuals with emotional or mental health problems.

According to the American Kennel Club, “A service dog helps a person with a disability lead a more independent life. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.”  The service / assistance dog is specially trained as a guide dog, signal dog or service dog which the “Ventura County Animal Services issues Assistance Dog tags to eligible persons who complete an “Assistance Dog Identification Application and Affidavit Form” for the dog”. 

The American Kennel Club (AKC) provides the following examples as to what a service dog’s job is, “Guide dogs help blind and visually impaired individuals navigate their environments. Hearing dogs help alert deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to important sounds. Mobility dogs assist individuals who use wheelchairs, walking devices, and who have balance issues.  Medical alert dogs might also signal the onset of a medical issue such as a seizure or low blood sugar, alert the user to the presence of allergens, and myriad other functions.  Psychiatric service dogs assist individuals with disabilities such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post – traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and other conditions.  Examples of work performed by psychiatric service dogs could include entering a dark room and turning on a light to mitigate stress-inducing condition, interrupting repetitive behaviors, and reminding a person to take medication.  

The ADA considers service dogs to be primarily working animals that are not considered pets.  Service dogs can enter any space that would usually be accessible to members of the public even hospital rooms.  

A therapy animal is part of a team (owner and pet) that provides animal assisted intervention to people dealing with emotional and physical life changes. They deliver positive distraction, motivation, empathy, and compassion.

“Therapy dogs are trained to react and respond to people and their environment, under the guidance and direction of their owners. Therapy dogs can be used as part of an animal assisted intervention (AAI).  Animal assisted interventions are goal-oriented and structured interventions that intentionally incorporate animals in health, education, and human service for the purpose of therapeutic gains and improved health and wellness. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), animal-assisted education (AAE), and animal-assisted activities (AAA) are all forms of animal-assisted interventions. In all these interventions, the animal may be part of a volunteer therapy animal team working under the direction of a professional or an animal that belongs to the professional.

“Therapy dogs offer affection, comfort, and companionship to people in certain locations, such as hospitals, care homes, or schools, bringing light into the lives of those who may be feeling lonely or afraid or just in need of a little tenderness and fun.

SJPVH Pet Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs undergo extensive training to help them be very docile, approachable, and familiar with being touched and handled by many different people. They tend to be some of the friendliest and most affectionate dogs around.

However, unlike other types of support dogs, such as service dogs, therapy dogs don’t usually have any special privileges or permissions to enter places where dogs wouldn’t usually be allowed unless the facility has provided express permission.

Emotional support dogs have some similarities with both therapy and service dogs. “Like therapy dogs, they aim to bring comfort and friendship into their owner’s lives, and like service dogs, they carry out important duties for people in need.

They don’t usually receive any extensive training but are often recommended or even prescribed to those dealing with emotional or mental health issues. They don’t have to perform any particular tasks or duties; they bring emotional comfort and balance into a person’s life.

For these reasons, since they aren’t intensively trained, emotional support dogs are not usually allowed to enter the same places like service dogs. However, those who have registered Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) may be allowed to live in apartments or housing that wouldn’t usually allow pets, and ESAs can accompany their owners on flights as well.

Per the Ventura County Animal Services, “An emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal that is recognized as a “reasonable accommodation” for a person with a disability under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHAct, 42 U.S.C.A. 3601 et seq.). The assistance animal is not a pet according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD is the agency that oversees the FHAct and investigates claims of housing discrimination.

There are only two questions that HUD says a housing provider should consider with a request for an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation:

(1) Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability — i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?

(2) Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

(FHEO Notice: FHEO-2013-01 at page 2). A “no” answer to either of the questions means that a housing provider is not obligated to make a reasonable accommodation according to HUD. This may mean that the person does not meet the definition of disability or that the assistance animal does not help with symptoms of the disability. If the answer is “yes” to both, then HUD states the FHA requires an exception to a “no pets” rule. The emotional support animal must alleviate, or help, some symptom(s) of the disability.  The goal of the FHAct is to give disabled individuals and equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwellings like non-disabled individuals. Reasonable accommodations are a recognized means of achieving that goal.

Not every pet is ready to go to work and that’s ok because the family pet helps people feel happy.  But service dogs also assist in the care of the pet owner, while therapy dogs assist with the care of others and emotional support animals provide emotional support to their owner. All the working pets do amazing work, regardless of their role.

For individuals with service dogs California provides the “Assistance Dog Special Allowance (ADSA) program provides a monthly payment of $50 to eligible persons who use a guide, signal, or service dog to help them with their disability-related needs. The allowance is to help pay the costs of food, grooming, and health care for the dog.   The California Department of Public Service website regarding working dogs also has a reference list of organizations of service dog training schools. 

If interested in local animal therapy programs one of the local canine groups is VIP Dog Teams.  This group promotes the human-animal bond that transforms lives and leads to healing and is an affiliate of Pet Partners. Their therapy teams work in hospitals, schools, etc.  Ride On is one of several equestrian organizations that teach adaptive horseback riding to children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities and provide physical and occupational therapy specializing in using the movement of the horse to improve specific medical conditions.


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