Working Animals Defined

"A service animal  or emotional support animal serves ONLY the handler, a therapy animal with their handler, serves everyone".  

We often have people calling us looking for help to make their pet a service animal or an emotional support animal.  There is a lot of confusion among all the types of working animals, but there IS a big difference.  When you look into the definitions of each of these working animals, it starts becoming a little clearer.

Service Animal: Any dog (or mini horse) that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal laws protect the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animal in all public places.

Service animals are not pets.  They are trained at the highest level, as they perform very skilled and specific tasks for their handlers, and they are working at all times.


Emotional Support Animal (ESA):  A companion animal that provides a therapeutic benefit for an individual with a mental or psychiatric impairment.

At the present time, there are no training guidelines or requirements for emotional support animals.

A licensed mental health professional or physician must write a prescription letter for the animal to be legally categorized as an ESA.

The Fair Housing Act requires hotels, apartments, etc., that do not allow pets to make reasonable accommodations for an ESA.  Airlines make accommodations for certain types of ESAs as required under the Air Carrier Access Act.


Therapy Animal: An animal that is trained, along with its handler, to provide support and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, for people with learning difficulties, and in stressful situations, such as disaster areas, to name a few. Some therapy animals work with professionals such as physical therapists, reading specialists or counselors for goal directed outcomes.

Therapy animals are carefully trained and evaluated because they work in stressful environments and interact with many people in a compressed period of time.

Although well trained, therapy animals do not have the federally granted legal access afforded service animals.

Service, emotional support and therapy animals are part of a larger class of working dogs.  Click here to download a copy of the chart below.