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Service, Support & Therapy Animals: What's The Difference?

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Some animals are more than just pets. They provide guidance and comfort for their owners, typically as a companion at home and in public places. 

What distinguishes service dogs from emotional support and therapy animals?

The U.S. Department of Justice revised the Americans With Disabilities Act in 2010, indicating that dogs are the only service animal recognized under federal law. These are canines disciplined to perform specific tasks, including dogs who are trained to guide the blind, respond to seizures or detect low blood sugar.

Emotional support animals can help with conditions like anxiety or PTSD and are typically recommended by a health care professional. While these animals – which range from peacocksto snakes to pigs – often help manage a disability-related need, their presence only has certain protections for fair housing and flying on planes. 

Animal-assisted therapy is typically a short-term activity with a domesticated animal and its handler. More commonly, these interactions include dogs or horses in group settings involving children and people in places like hospitals, prisons or nursing homes.

There is no official national registryregulating assistance animals or their owners. How can the public navigate potential social and legal complications? 

With airlines making changes to policies regarding animals this year, what should you know when traveling with an animal? What are the practical advantages and challenges of having creature companion? 


  • David Favre, law professor and editor-in-chief for the Animal Legal & Historical Center at Michigan State University
  • Dr. Linda Porter-Wenzlaff, board member for Therapy Animals of San Antonio and vice president of the Bexar County Partners for Youth Equine Advisory Council for CHAPS (Children and Horses Always Produce Success)
  • Laurie Gawelko, CEO and founder of Service Dog Express; service dog trainer, advocate and consultant

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Jan Ross Piedad Sakian is TPR’s News Operations Producer. In this role, she develops strategy on collaborative and digital initiatives for the station. Since 2016, Jan Ross has served in a coordinating capacity for TPR’s state and national partners, including The Texas Newsroom.