A couple of weeks ago we talked to you about Service Dogs, what they are, what they do, their legal rights, and how that designation is sometimes abused.
We expressed our general annoyance at people who abuse this important service with phony “credentials.”
There are other categories of “helping” animals that you should also know about, emotional support animals and therapy animals. They are very different, but the problems with them are similar.
An emotional support animal is a pet (usually a dog but it could be a different species) that provides therapeutic support to a person with a mental illness.
To be recognized as an emotional support animal, the pet must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional for a person with a mental illness.
The prescription must specify that the person has an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, and that the presence of the animal is necessary for his or her mental health.
People with emotional support animals do not have the same rights to public access as those with a service dog.
They may only accompany their owners in public areas with the permission of the owner.
They may travel with their owner on an airplane and live with their owner in locations covered by the Fair Housing Amendments Act even if there is a “no pets” policy.
That’s pretty much it.
We are all animal lovers and we all get “emotional support” from our pets.
That’s a good thing, but there are unscrupulous people who basically fake a mental illness in order to obtain a phony “credential” certifying their pet as an emotional support animal, primarily in order to get them in the cabin of a plane.
Once again they abuse an important service depended upon by people with real disabilities.
That’s not a good thing.
Then there are therapy animals.
They provide affection and comfort to people, usually in institutional settings such as hospitals, retirement homes, libraries, and schools.
These are individual pets, not working animals like service dogs.
But they have a special aptitude for interacting with members of the public and enjoy doing so.
Therapy animal owners volunteer their time to visit with their animal in the community.
There are great national organizations that recruit, evaluate, and train therapy animals and their handlers and organize volunteer opportunities for them.
Petpartners.org is just one of them and it has a local affiliate, petpartnersofsyracuse.org that does great work all over Central New York.
A therapy animal has no special rights of access, except in those facilities where they are welcomed.
They may not enter businesses with “no pets” policies or accompany their handler in the cabin of an airplane no matter what their therapy animal designation is.
But you can go online and for about $59 buy yourself a silly kit with a certificate verifying that your pet is a therapy animal.
Therapy animal programs are great programs and you should check them out if you have an especially mellow and friendly pet of any persuasion.
But don’t waste your money on a kit.
Donate it to an animal organization instead.
The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County.
Our office has relocated to 110 W. Second St., Oswego, NY.
Phone: (315) 207-1070.
Email: [email protected]
Because People and Pets Are Good for Each Other