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Service & Therapy Dogs: ADA & State Rights

  • Published: 2011-12-19 (Revised/Updated 2015-03-11) : Wendy Taormina-Weiss (Disabled World).
  • Synopsis: Information on service dogs that are trained on an individual basis to perform tasks that assist their handlers with disabilities.
Therapy Dog

A dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, people with learning difficulties, and stressful situations, such as disaster areas. Therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. Therapy dogs must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily. A therapy dog's primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact with it and to enjoy that contact. Children in particular enjoy hugging animals; adults usually enjoy simply petting the dog. The dog might need to be lifted onto, or climb onto, an individual's lap or bed and sit or lie comfortably there.

Main Document

Quote: "The differences between Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs are very noticeable from the perspectives of services provided and legal perspectives."

Service dogs are trained on an individual basis to perform tasks that assist their handlers with disabilities.

There are a number of types of service dogs and numerous types of tasks they may perform depending upon the needs of their particular handler's limitations and abilities. One example of a service dog is a Guide Dog that is trained to assist a person who experiences a loss of vision.

Mobility Dogs are service dogs that are trained to retrieve items, push buttons, or open doors for their handlers. These service dogs might help people with disabilities with balance, transferring from one place to another, or walking.

A Hearing Alert Dog is a service dog that is trained to alert its handler to sounds. Hearing Alert Dogs can be trained to alert handlers with hearing impairments to sounds such as doorbells, oven alarms, fire alarms, and other sounds that require attention.

Seizure Alert Dogs or Seizure Response Dogs, are also sometimes referred to as, 'Medical Alert Dogs.' These service dogs alert to oncoming seizures and are trained to respond to them by either retrieving assistance, or remaining by the person's side until help comes. Other Medical Alert Dogs are trained to alert to oncoming medical conditions that might include diabetes, a panic attack, a heart attack, or post-traumatic stress disorder for example.

Another form of service dog is an Autism Service Dog. Autism Service Dogs can be trained to alert their handlers of particular behaviors so the person might respond to the behaviors in a desired fashion.

Two Golden Retriever Dogs on leash sitting
About This Image: Two Golden Retriever Dogs on leash sitting
Types of Service Dogs may include, but are not limited to:

Differences between a Service Dog and a Therapy Dog

The differences between Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs are very noticeable from the perspectives of services provided and legal perspectives. The terms, 'Service Dog,' and, 'Therapy Dog,' are not meant to used as equivalents and should not be used to mean the same thing; they are not. According to Federal Law, a Service Animal is not a pet. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that a Service Animal is any animal that has been individually trained to provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability which substantially limits one or more of the person's major life functions. In addition, a number of states in America have laws following Federal Law in greater detail.

A Therapy Dog is one that is trained to provide comfort and affection to people in long-term care, hospitals, retirement homes, schools, mental health institutions, and other stressful situations to include disaster areas. Therapy Dogs provide people with animal contact; people who may or may not have a form of disability. Therapy Dogs work in animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy. The dog is commonly owned by the person handling it, who considers the dog to be a personal pet.

Therapy Dogs often work with their handler during sessions. The Therapy Dog and its handler make visits to others in a number of settings and are the most common source of Therapy Dogs. Handlers of these dogs might be health care professionals who are members of the staff of a particular facility, or volunteers.

Service Dogs and Rights

It is very important to remember that Therapy Dogs do not have the same rights as handlers of Service Dogs. Handlers of Service Dogs are protected under the ADA because of the disability the handler experiences. The distinction is highly-important, and there should be no misunderstanding that it is the Person with a Disability who is the handler of the Service Dog that has rights under the ADA; not the dog. The Service Dog is allowed access based upon the rights of the person with a disability.

For example; in the State of Colorado, a person with a disability has the right to be accompanied by an assistance dog that is specially trained for the person without being required to pay an extra charge for the assistance dog. This is true in relation to housing as well, such as places that are for rent, lease, or other compensation within the state.

In Colorado, a person with a disability is exempt from any state or local licensing fees or charges that might apply in other instances in relation to the ownership of an assistance dog. Anyone who wrongfully obtains or exerts unauthorized control over a dog guide or service animal with the intent to deprive the dog guide or service animal user of their service animal is guilty of first degree theft in Colorado. Your state may have similar laws in place that support the ADA rights you have as the owner of a Service Dog.

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