Service animals vs. Therapy animals

We often talk with companies about their potential and current employees and/or customers that use service animals.

As most folks know, service animals are legally defined under the ADA, American’s with Disabilities Act, to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities, allowing them to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. These animals are specifically trained to help just one person with their disability related needs and are not considered pets.

While most folks are familiar with service animals, they are not familiar with the term, therapy animal nor are they familiar with the difference between the two.

Unlike service animals, therapy animals are not legally defined by federal law. While they provide people with contact to animals, they are not limited to working with people who have disabilities. They are usually the personal pets of their handlers but through their handlers, provide services to others such as visiting patients in hospitals or the elderly in assisted-living care or even helping children learn to read.

Since service animals are not pets, local laws that restrict animals from restaurants, housing, theaters and other businesses are not applicable. Therapy animals however, are pets, do not fall under the regulations provided by the ADA and therefore their handlers must obey local animal laws.

The reason for bringing this issue up is that a client called us last week asking how to handle an employee that recently brought their new dog to work stating that it was a therapy dog, therefore protected under the ADA. Obviously, the individual was misinformed.