There are a lot of misconceptions and myths surrounding therapy dogs, service dogs, and emotional support dogs. Though the terms may be used interchangeably, they are viewed differently by the government and their handlers and have limitations on where they can go.
In general, unlike service dogs, therapy dogs cannot enter many public places and have the same rights as regular pets—with some exceptions.
What Is a Therapy Dog?
Therapy dogs have a different helping role than service dogs or emotional support animals. They aren’t trained to help a specific handler, but they work with an owner or handler in clinical settings like hospitals, mental health institutions, and schools to provide comfort and affection to residents.
These dogs are trained to be comfortable in different environments and friendly and affectionate with different people. They’re usually calm and comfortable around new people, sounds, and places.
Do Therapy Dogs Have Legal Rights?
Though they’re defined as comfort dogs in therapeutic settings, therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. They don’t have unlimited access to public spaces the way a seeing-eye dog or seizure dog does.
Each state has its own rules and regulations for therapy dogs as well, and each organization has different guidelines. Therapy dogs should be trained, insured, and licensed by the organization that offers its services.
What Places Don’t Allow Therapy Dogs?
The rules surrounding therapy dogs vary significantly, but in general, they have the same rights as any other pet or companion animal.
The Fair Housing Act has rules regarding animals, allowing property owners to deny access to their property to animals and humans.
They cannot refuse housing to a person because of an assistance animal, however. This rule doesn’t apply to therapy dogs because they’re not defined as assistance animals in any state and have no legally protected status.
Therapy dogs are wonderful for students with high-stress levels or mental health conditions, but the college or university doesn’t have to allow a student to have a therapy dog in the dorm. That said, some institutions will discuss it.
Airports and Planes
Because of assistance animals, including emotional support animals, there’s a misconception that therapy dogs are allowed on planes without discussing it with the airline first. This is likely because so many people register and travel with emotional support animals, though the rampant abuse of that title may lead to greater restrictions.
The Air Carrier Access Act allows service and emotional support animals to fly without added costs, but therapy dogs don’t fall into this category. They are treated as a pet, but it’s possible that the airline may allow them as a special circumstance.
Service dogs are legally covered in the workplace, but therapy dogs and emotional support animals are not. Despite the many benefits of having therapy dogs in the workplace, there aren’t any laws in place to protect the right to bring a therapy dog to work.
Keep in mind that some employers are more relaxed about having pets in the office, especially with a therapy dog that’s proven its obedience and friendliness during the certification process.
The laws for pet ownership and access vary by state and property, but generally, therapy dogs don’t have additional legal protection like service dogs. It’s important to check with your destination before showing up with your dog and being turned away. Therapy dogs are popular, so you may be pleasantly surprised when a property owner allows you to bring your dog along.
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