You’ve probably heard the saying that a dog is man’s (and woman’s) best friend, but for a person with a disability who relies on a service dog, their dog is so much more. Service Dogs provide invaluable help to people with developmental, psychiatric, and physical disabilities. Much like a wheelchair, crutches, or an oxygen tank, a Service Dog is medically necessary and, depending on a person’s disability, can also be their lifeline.


It’s hard to imagine what life is like for a veteran who experiences a full-blown panic attack when he or she hears a loud noise or for a hearing-impaired person who has to navigate a dangerous intersection to get to work. Without the help of Service Dogs, they would most likely live isolated lives, dependent on others for everything.


What’s the difference between Service Animals and therapy or emotional support animals?


Although some people use these terms interchangeably, there are differences in what they’re used for and legal rights. 


A Service Dog is trained to work for individuals with disabilities other than blindness or deafness, such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, POTS, seizure disorders, diabetes, PTSD, autism, TBI, etc. Service dogs are trained to perform a wide variety of tasks including but not limited to; pulling a wheelchair, bracing, retrieving, alerting to a medical crisis, and providing assistance in a medical crisis.


An emotional support animal (ESA) is a pet that provides its owner with therapeutic benefits through companionship.


The ADA only protects animals that have been specifically trained as true Service Animals. You may receive some protections for an emotional support animal, such as protection under the fair housing act.


While there is no “official” registration process, employers, businesses, and the general public cannot ask you to “prove” your Service Dog’s status. The law states that people can only ask two questions if the dog is not a Service Dog

  1. Is the animal required because of a disability? 
  2. What work or task does the animal perform? 


Where Service Dogs Can Go

The ADA enables individuals with disabilities to bring their Service Dogs into all public facilities and private businesses where members of the public, program participants, clients, customers, patrons, or invitees are allowed. These are federal laws that all 50 states must uphold. Some states also have laws about where Service Dogs can go. 


A Service Dog also has to be harnessed, leashed, or have some type of tether, unless the handler’s disability makes them unable to use a tether or the use of a tether would interfere with the Service Animal’s ability to perform its work safely. In that situation, the Service Dog must be under the handler’s control through voice commands, hand signals, or other equally effective means. If a Service Animal is excluded, the individual with a disability must still be offered the opportunity to obtain goods, services, and accommodations without having the Service Animal on the premises.


Exceptions to the Rules

There are exceptions to this rule. For example, a facility can exclude or remove a Service Dog if it interferes with legitimate safety requirements (e.g., from a surgery or burn unit in a hospital in which a sterile field is required) or if the dog is not housebroken or is out of control. There are also some institutions that do not have to comply with ADA laws that allow service dogs in different situations where pets are not allowed:

  • Churches and other religious areas (your state or city might have specific laws that do require religious institutions to allow service animals)
  • Federal agencies like the VA.
  • Shopping carts (you can bring your animal in any store, but they must remain on the floor and must walk or be in your wheelchair)
  • Restaurant chairs (your animal may be in the restaurant with you, but they cannot sit at a chair and they cannot eat food off of the table)
  • Swimming pools (your service animal can be on the deck or in any area surrounding the pool, but they cannot swim with you. If you are in distress, the animal will have ADA protection to jump in the pool and save you)
  • Airplanes (New regulations regarding Service Animals are being finalized by the U.S. Department of Transportation). 


The New Air Carrier Access Act states that:

  • Only Service Dogs (those trained to aid those with disabilities) and psychiatric animals will be considered service animals. Emotional support animals will no longer qualify as service animals on planes
  • Airlines will be able to require passengers traveling with Service Animals to complete a Transportation Department form “attesting to the animal’s training and good behavior, and certifying the animal’s good health.
  • Airlines can refuse animals that display aggressive behavior or pose a direct threat to others’ health and safety, although Service dogs cannot be barred based on breed alone
  • Airlines will be able to require that Service Animals be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, fit within the handler’s foot space. Carriers will also be able to limit each passenger with a disability to two Service Animals. 


From handing the bus pass to the driver to moving chairs out of the way in stores and restaurants; escorting a person safely across the street to pushing the elevator button to take someone to their office; retrieving the phone in case of emergency to preventing panic attacks; Service Dogs enable people with disabilities to live independent lives.


Everyone can help make it possible for people living with disabilities to have a service dog. There are many volunteer opportunities and ways to make financial contributions, including creating a fundraiser. You can even simply include us on your Amazon shopping list to help us by supplying preventative medications, cleaning supplies, leashes, collars, dog beds, training equipment, and toys. Or, to make an immediate impact, consider donating to ECAD. Your support makes a world of difference for people in need.