The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” It also specifies that “organizations that serve the public must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.”
That’s why it’s important to differentiate service dogs from therapy dogs or companion animals (pets): Service dogs and their owners are granted special access rights that don’t apply to other types of animals.
Therapy dogs visit patients and residents in hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, schools, and shelters to provide solace, affection, and stress relief. Their interactions tend to be short duration. Therapy dogs have very stable temperaments to tolerate other animals and occasionally intense situations without becoming upset, nervous, or dangerous. These dogs can be extremely helpful to those they visit, but they are not the same as service dogs who form a long-term team with their owners.
More information about service dogs is available from Assistance Dogs International.