Do Service Dogs Make a Difference?


With much negative press about peacocks, hamsters, and pigs on planes, do emotional support animals even make a difference?

The general public, businesses, and lawmakers are confusing, especially since terms like “service animal”, “emotional support animal” and “therapy animal” are often interchangeably misused. Public perception validates that most people believe that service dogs and emotional support dogs are being properly used, despite mainstream media’s negative coverage of headlines.

What’s the difference between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals?Emotional Support Animal Kissing Man

Understanding the differences of these terms helps to clear some of the muddy waters. Emotional support animals are not merely pets, but animals that provide a therapeutic support to their owners with a mental or emotional disability.

Service animals are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  as dogs trained to perform tasks for individuals wit

h disabilities. Whereas, emotional support animals are defined by the Fair Housing Act, which categorizes service animals and emotional support animals in the same category. Of course, these two laws do cause confusion.

To add to the confusion, Air Carrier Access Act categorizes these two terms together, which is what mostly makes headlines about exotic animals flying on a plane or a dog biting a person during a flight.

In effort to prevent abuses, many airlines have strengthened their policies to require specific forms to be completed by licensed practitioners and veterinarians.

Do these animals even make a difference for those who “need them”?

Emotional Support Animal on Dock

Much research has indicated that animals help to alleviate certain symptoms related to psychological issues, including PTSD and anxiety.  Emotional support animals and therapy animals help alleviate stressanxietydepression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Interactions with emotional support animals help people manage their long-term mental health conditions.

2016 study explored the role of animals in the social networks of people managing a long-term mental health problem and found that e

motional support animals provide a sense of security and routine that provided emotional and social support.

Studies have also shown that emotional support animals are facilitators of getting to know people, friendship formation and social support networks.

Another 2018 study reports emotional support animals provide powerful companionship for people living with mental health problems, which used a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence to find statistical significance. Emotional support animals have a positive impact on treating people.

The evidence is overwhelming on the positive impact an emotional support animal has on the treatment of individuals with emotional and mental disabilities.

How to obtain proper documentation for an ESA

Obtaining the proper documentation, like an emotional support animal letter and airline forms, is critical to assure protection by federal and local laws. Following these guidelines for accurate and confidential information:

  1. Completed by a licensed mental health professional,

  2. Establishes a doctor/patient relationship under care of the practitioner,

  3. Utilizes the appropriate language indicating a diagnosable disability by the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM),

  4. Validates and verifies a license of the practitioner who signs the documentation.

How to know a website is not a fake, a scam, or a fraud

With so many online websites offering generic emotional support animal registration and documents, the following information is critical:

  1. Verify the website is a healthcare provider, and not a marketing agency. Usually the company is a nonprofit and looking to help support individuals and not make money.

  2. Verify the website is HIPPA compliant and protects your personal information. Nearly all websites collect your information and use it for marketing purposes.

  3. Check the reviews of the website by searching the “company’s name” and “reviews” on your web browser. For example, type in “org Reviews” in the search bar.

  4. Check the website will provide the most current airline forms without charging extra fees for completing additional forms.

If you think an emotional support animal or service animal will benefit you, then register with TheraPetic!