Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Animals vs Pets

There seems to be MUCH confusion as to what’s what, even among investigative reporters doing the investigating and reporting:

News 5 Investigates: Disability advocates want to stop fake emotional support animals

Once again, KOAA, and this time, Eric Ross, you’re getting your wires crossed. It’s not “fake emotional support animals (ESA)” that are any sort of problem.

Rather, the problem is “fake service animals,” people misrepresenting either their ESAs, or worse, their pets, as “Service Animals” in order to bring the animals with them everywhere.


Service Dog: “A service dog, as the term is used in the United States, refers to any dog trained as a service animal to help a person who has a disability, such as visual impairmenthearing impairment, mental illness (like posttraumatic stress disorder), seizuresmobility impairment, and diabetes. The right of service dogs in the US to accompany their owners everywhere their owners go is protected under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and parallel state and city laws, and significant monetary penalties have been assessed by courts against those who have sought to abridge those rights.” – Source

Emotional Support Animal (ESA): “An emotional support animal (ESA) is a type of assistance animal that alleviates a symptom or effect of a person’s disability. An emotional support animal is not a pet and is generally not restricted by species. An emotional support animal differs from a service animal. Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks (such as helping a blind person navigate), while emotional support animals receive no specific training, nor even, necessarily, any training at all.” – Source

Pet: “A pet, or companion animal, is an animal kept primarily for a person’s company, entertainment or as an act of compassion such as taking in and protecting a stray cat, rather than as a working animallivestock or laboratory animal.”

In summary, working animals, service animals and service dogs are quite different than assistance animals, emotional support animals, and pets. The former receive significant training, while the latter do not.

From NOLO Press’ Legal Encyclopedia:

Under Colorado’s laws on the civil rights of people with disabilities as well as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all “public accommodations,” such as hotels, restaurants, stores, museums, and more. These laws also require those who operate transportation services to allow service animals.

The ADA and Colorado law define a service animal as a DOG that is individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability.

Colorado’s law on service animals is very similar to the ADA’s rules on service animals. Both sets of law offer broad protections to people with physical, mental, sensory, intellectual, and psychiatric disabilities who use service animals to assist them.

Thus, if anyone claims their animal is a Service Animal and that animal is not a DOG, then under Colorado State Law, it’s NOT a Service Animal.

Emotional support animals are NOT service animals.

From ESA Doctors: “Yes, an ESA is more than a pet in that they are being used to assist a person with a mental or emotional disability. However, they are not afforded the full rights of a Service Dog.”

Please note that even ESA Doctors say, “Service DOG.”

“Service Dogs are allowed into all areas open to the general public because they have been specifically trained to perform a task for the disabled individual. This can include a number of skills like guiding, alerting, or opening doors and pulling a wheelchair. Without the help of a Service Dog, many people would be unable to live (what we consider) a normal life.” – ESA Doctors dot com

PROBLEM STATEMENT: People with “emotional support animals” are routinely encroaching upon the much-needed and protected space of those who legitimately require a Service Dog as well as those of us (upwards of 18%) who are allergic to multiple animals.

In so doing, these ESA and pet owners are actually doing a grave disservice to individuals with Service Dogs. Not only are they far more numerous than legitimate Service Dog owners, but by being everywhere, with all manner of pets, they deny the rest of humanity our right of being out and about relatively free of animal dander.

Having run a writing group for a number of years, I was delighted when a new writer appeared with her Service Dog. I was delighted to have her and her Service Dog with us in our group, as her Service Dog was indeed a properly-trained Service Dog (cost of about $35,000) and behaved accordingly.

On the other hand, I came across a young couple in Walmart the other day who were there with their older puppy sporting a “Service Dog” vest but the dog was obviously not a trained service animal at all, wagging its tail, sniffing around, pulling at the leash…

Personally, I take a dim view of people who claim rights that aren’t theirs to claim. Service Dogs are covered under the ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA covers protection with respect to telecommunications, housing air carrier, voting, architectural barriers, and more.

By law, accommodations must be made for people with legitimate disabilities. Doing so, however, costs money, something which the rest of us must pay. I’m happy to do so for those few with legitimate disabilities.

I am NOT going to pay for a bunch of usurpers who walk around with their pets claiming the same rights.

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