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What constitutes an emotional support animal?

Posted at 7:45 PM, Sep 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-20 06:16:34-04

LANSING, Mich. — Everyone who has a pet knows that they play a specific role in the family--but for others, they do a lot more.

Some people need animals to perform tasks for them, others need them for emotional support, but the question a lot of people are asking is what is the difference.

Professionals who deal with service animals say the biggest difference is that service animals are trained to perform certain tasks pertaining to the handler's disabilities.

"They are not just pets and while they do give emotional support to people, they also do life-saving things," Nikki Brown, executive director for Cannies for Change, said.

Cannies for Change trains service dogs for all kinds of disabilities ranging from diabetes to epilepsy.

"They're not an ordinary pet and that people really need these dogs," Auncia McCullough, a task trainer, said.

Psychologist Reema Beri said that emotional support animals are not specifically trained.

"It's an animal that provides comfort or support to individuals who might have anxiety, depression or just a variety of emotional issues," Beri said.

One of the biggest concerns for these animals is if they are allowed in public areas.

"Service dogs are allowed anywhere that person with a disability is, meaning there federally protected as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to have that service dog live with them and go with them anywhere that they go," Marie Hopfensperger, of veterinary behavior service at MSU, said.

When it comes to emotional support animals, the American's with Disabilities Act does not give them the same public access as they do with service dogs.

"The ADA doesn't recognize emotional support dogs as having public access only service dogs and service horses have -- miniature horses have public access and legal rights," Brown said.

One local veteran said his service dog, Buddy, saves his life everyday.

"Anywhere I go, he goes. When I go upstairs -- when I had knee surgery -- when I go upstairs to take a nap he lays up there with me and take a nap next to me," Gary Oller said.

Beri said the main reasons people request to have emotional support animals is so they can live with them in housing or have them while they are flying.

Emotional support animals are not considered service animals, according to the ADA.

To find out if your animal is allowed in a specific location, it is best to call ahead before you bring your pet

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