What is the Difference Between
Emotional Support Animals, Service Animals and Therapy Animals?
The main difference between emotional support animals, service animals and therapy animals have to do with training. With emotional support animals (ESA), the dogs are there to bring comfort as well as companionship. The animals do not have to get any specialized training and skills for this, except perhaps basic obedience and social skills, in the case of dogs or cats. It's enough that the animal is there and its owner draws comfort from its presence.
Emotional support animals are commonly dogs, but there also individuals who take cats, horses, rabbits or turtles as their emotional support animals. To some degree, emotional support animals are still considered pets. But unlike pets, they serve another purpose as they are relied upon by those with mental health issues (ie. Depression, PTSD, Anxiety, etc.).
Emotional Support Animals are extended some adjustments especially when dealing with housing or airline rules. The "no pets policy" does not apply in this case, but the person with an ESA has to have a letter signed and written by a licensed mental health professional.
On the other hand, service animals have been highly trained to master specific skills. These dogs have to perform tasks for their handlers who are unable to do a variety of things because of a physical or mental disability.
For instance, someone who is blind will need the help of a service dog in walking in public, so the dog should be trained to guide and keep his handler safe. Someone who experiences seizures will need a service dog who is trained to notice the triggers, as well as alert people concerned in order to save the life of his handler. Because of their vital role, service dogs can accompany their handlers wherever they need to be, even in public facilities (ie. Restaurants, stores, work places, etc.).
Therapy animals are similar to service animals in that they are required to be trained to perform certain tasks. The difference is that therapy dogs are also socially trained and well-adjusted around people. Hence, you see therapy dogs in various hospital facilities, rehab centers, schools and establishments or sites where the primary concern is psychological or emotional healing. Therapy animals are not entitled access to public places, airlines, or no pets housing situations.