Service dog? Therapy dog? Emotional support dog?

Therapy dog

Assistance Animals

We just enjoyed another great visit from the ARF therapy dogs in front of the library on Tuesday. It’s a reminder that many of us are confused about the different categories of assistance dogs: Service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs. What is the difference? Which ones are allowed in the Library?


Service dog: “A dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

Emotional support animal: “Provides a therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship. The animal provides emotional support and comfort to individuals with psychiatric disabilities and other mental impairments. The animal is not specifically trained to perform tasks for a person who suffers from emotional disabilities. Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal is not granted access to places of public accommodation.” The only place this group of assistance animals is allowed is in rental housing that is otherwise considered “no pets allowed”.

Therapy dogs: “Provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers…Typically, they visit hospitals, schools, hospices, nursing homes and more [with permission]. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with a variety of people while they are on-duty.”

What are the policies at SBCC?

No animals are allowed inside buildings at SBCC except those in the service dog category.

There are some cases where it isn’t clear which category the dog falls under. Here are some guidelines:

  • A service dog must remain with its human at all times. Just as some people always carry an Epi-pen for life-threatening allergies, or a cane to support them as they walk, the dog needs to be there 24/7 for the human’s health and survival. The dog cannot and may not be left with someone else while its human goes to the restroom or to class–literally cannot, and SBCC doesn’t allow it, either.
  • “Work or perform tasks”, in this context, means the dog has been trained to take specific action, rather than just being a calming, loving presence. It does not relate to how they make the person feel emotionally. Think of dogs trained to perform tricks, versus dogs that make people smile by simply sitting there snuggling: Both types are awesome, but only one is actually performing a task.
  • Service dogs are working animals above all else, even if they also become a beloved family member. The human and dog are a team. This kind of working relationship is not common with emotional support animals. Compare it to talking with a close friend versus a licensed counselor: The friend will be there through thick and thin but isn’t trained for physical or psychiatric emergencies, while the counselor (like a service dog) is trained to provide specific help for specific situations, and doesn’t hang out with clients for fun.
  • Pets are emotional support for almost everyone, whether or not they have been medically prescribed. However, bringing pets and emotional service animals into public buildings makes life even more difficult for people who truly rely on a service dog. It also causes problems for people who don’t like dogs or who have allergies, and increases overall costs for cleaning and maintenance.

Read more about service animal rights and regulations here, and also here.