Aside from simply being “man’s best friend,” dogs often play a crucial role in aiding people with physical disabilities or mental disorders. Service and therapy dogs improve life quality of these people by helping them accomplish everyday tasks and providing emotional support.
Though both service dogs and emotional support dogs provide vital aid, therapy dogs are not awarded the same protections as service dogs.
Many establishments, such as schools, grocery stores and airlines, are beginning to prohibit therapy dogs from entering. Service dogs, on the other hand, are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is entitled to a service dog, and is allowed to bring their service dog into any area that the general public is allowed to enter, regardless of pet or animal restrictions. This means that service animals are permitted to enter restaurants, hotels, housing complexes and travel by plane.
Service dogs must pass a series of thorough tests, and only people with a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual,” including but not limited to paralysis, blindness, hearing loss, diabetes, cancer, autism, epilepsy and PTSD, may receive a therapy dog, according to the U.S. Dog Registry Website.
Service dogs are trained to perform tasks that ease their handlers’ disabilities and help them attain safety and independence. Every service dog is trained to cater to the specific needs of their owner, and the owner and dog must develop a communication system that works well, such as the dog tugging on their owner’s shirt to remind them to take their medication or barking to alert their owner during an emergency.
Therapy dogs also complete an extensive examination and registration process in order to receive their certificate, but they are trained to perform a different type of role. They provide psychological therapy to individuals other than their handlers. Typically, they visit hospitals, schools, hospices, nursing homes and other institutions in need of morale boosts. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with a variety of people while they are on-duty, and petting the therapy dog.
“When we see, touch, hear or talk to our companion animals [beneficial neurohormones] are released and that induces a sense of goodwill, joy, nurturing and happiness,” said Rebecca Johnson, Ph.D, director of the Research Center for Human Animal Interaction at University of Missouri. “At the same time, the stress hormone cortisol is suppressed. Heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate can all decrease, leaving us more relaxed and able to manage stress in ways that aren’t harmful to our health.”
In an effort to provide the best possible learning environment for students with disorders or disabilities, Paly allows students to bring service and therapy dogs, though they are expected to be conscious and sympathetic to students with allergies and fears. In fact, Paly provides students with therapy dogs on the quad every Monday and Wednesday in an effort to decrease stress and provide emotional support.
“I really like that our school has these therapy dogs because whenever I am having a rough day I know that they will be there,” said senior Anna Shimoda. “Plus, they’re super cute.”
According to Bob Jones, who brings his therapy dog to Paly every Monday and Wednesday, the therapy dogs were previously located in front of the main library, but moved to the side of the quad to accomodate for students with allergies or fears. For similar reasons, many companies and organizations have begun to prohibit therapy and emotional service dogs from entering their premises.
Grocery stores, airlines and other institutions are beginning to limit the dogs allowed in their stores because dogs may be unhygienic and cause fellow customers discomfort.
“[We don’t allow animals in Peet’s Coffee and Tea] because ew,” said Peet’s employee junior Rosa Schaefer Bastian. “We serve and produce food and drinks. Imagine going for a sip of coffee and finding a dog hair in there.”
Schaefer Bastian said Peet’s is legally required to permit service dogs in their stores, but have chosen not to allow therapy or emotional support dogs because they are “really easy for people to get and not crucial for their health and well-being.”
For example, junior Abby Weiss certified her dog as an emotional support dog so that her dog would have more access to places.
“My dad just got [our dog] certified as an emotional support animal so he could go on the plane with us,” said junior Abby Weiss. “I’m pretty sure [he] just got a doctor to sign off saying [we] need it.”
In an attempt to combat this, prominent brands like Delta have begun to crack down on their restrictions regarding emotional support dogs, requiring extensive certification 48 hours prior to flights.
Some people, however, feel that these regulations are further perpetuating the discrimination of mental disorders versus physical disabilities.
“By allowing service dogs but not therapy dogs, you are invalidating issues like anxiety and depression and saying that only visible issues are important,” said sophomore Mariam Neguib. “Even though I understand their reasoning behind banning animals, I wish that institutions would be more sympathetic toward those with mental issues.”