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What’s the Difference? Service Animals, Therapy Animals, and Emotional Support Animals

What’s the Difference? Service Animals, Therapy Animals, and Emotional Support Animals

Human-animal connections continue to play a crucial role in enhancing our well-being, however, there is some confusion surrounding the difference between the roles of service animals, therapy animals, and emotional support animals. While these roles all involve animals providing support and companionship, they serve distinct purposes and have different legal rights. Let’s go over the differences between these three important roles in the realm of human-animal relationships.

Service Animals: Empowering Independence

Service animals are specially trained to assist individuals with disabilities in performing specific tasks. These tasks are directly related to the individual’s disability and are aimed at increasing their independence and quality of life. Common examples include guide dogs for the visually impaired, alert dogs for diabetics, and mobility assistance dogs for those with physical limitations.

Key Characteristics of Service Animals:

  1. Assist Only One Person: A service animal is trained to assist their handler specifically rather than multiple people.
  2. Highly Trained: Service animals undergo rigorous training to perform specific tasks that mitigate their owner’s disability.
  3. Protected by Law: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States, service animals are allowed access to public places where animals are generally not permitted.
  4. Not Just for Physical Disabilities: Service animals can also be trained to assist individuals with mental health conditions, such as PTSD or anxiety.

Fun fact: Although most service animals are dogs, in certain circumstances miniature horses are also able to qualify as official service animals!

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs): Providing Comfort and Stability

Emotional support animals (ESAs) provide companionship and alleviate emotional distress for individuals with diagnosed mental health conditions. These animals offer a sense of comfort, stability, and emotional connection to their owners, helping them manage symptoms and improve their overall well-being.

Key Characteristics of Emotional Support Animals:

  1. Prescribed by Healthcare Professionals: ESAs require a recommendation from a licensed healthcare professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist.
  2. Protected by Housing Laws: In the United States, ESAs are granted certain housing-related accommodations under the Fair Housing Act, allowing their owners to keep them in housing that otherwise might not permit pets.
  3. No Legal Access Rights: Unlike service animals, therapy animals do not have legal rights to access public places where pets are not allowed. They require permission to enter these areas.

What is the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal? Service animals are nearly always dogs and must be trained to perform specific tasks for their handler, to the point that they can be considered medical equipment and receive special protections under the law. Emotional support animals can be any type of pet and do not need specific training, so long as they ease their owner’s mental health symptoms.

Therapy Animals: Spreading Comfort and Joy

Therapy animals are trained to provide comfort, companionship, and emotional support to people in various settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and disaster-stricken areas. These animals interact with multiple individuals, offering emotional relief and often contributing to the overall healing process.

Key Characteristics of Therapy Animals:

  1. Temperament and Training: Therapy animals must have a calm and friendly demeanor and undergo specific training to interact positively with people in diverse environments.
  2. Visitation-Based: Therapy animals don’t typically live with the people they provide therapy for; instead, they visit people on location to offer emotional support on a volunteer basis.
  3. No Legal Access Rights: Unlike service animals, therapy animals do not have legal rights to access public places where pets are not allowed (they may acquire special permission to enter these areas).

What is the difference between an emotional support animal and a therapy animal? An emotional support animal comforts their owner and does not need specific training, while a therapy animal offers support to many people and must be very well trained.

Understanding the distinctions between service animals, therapy animals, and emotional support animals is essential for fostering a respectful and inclusive environment for both animals and individuals in need of their support. While each role serves a unique purpose, they collectively contribute to the well-being of countless people, enriching lives through companionship, comfort, and assistance. Whether it’s a guide dog leading a visually impaired person, a therapy dog bringing joy and confidence to a struggling student, or an emotional support dog providing comfort to someone with anxiety, these remarkable animals truly make our world a better place!

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Julia and Spencer – Bringing Happiness to Children During Difficult Times

Spencer was a four-month-old stray when Julia found him, but he was so sweet and gentle that Julia thought that he would make a great therapy dog! After training for about a year, they became a therapy team, and joined Gabriel’s Angels the following year. Julia and Spencer have been visiting Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse for five years. From the beginning, Spencer has loved going to the facility, often running from the front door to the kids’ meeting room. With the onset of Covid, the meetings moved online, and Spencer and Julia enjoy that as well, but miss being with the kids in person. Whether online or in-person, before meeting times, Julia works with Emerge staff to match the theme of the evening, using a book from her own collection or from the library. Afterwards the book is discussed and what it means and how it relates to the theme, and then the kids have a chance to play a game or complete a themed activity with Spencer.

One of their favorite in-person visits was about the theme of curiosity and confidence. They read and discussed “Dear Mrs. Larue” and, with Julia’s help, the kids were able to lead Spencer on a “Sniff and Seek” to find treats. Another favorite time was when they had just one child during their visit. This six-year-old was new to Emerge and very afraid of dogs. Julia and Spencer kept their distance and let him approach Spencer when he was ready. By the end of the evening, Spencer was tucked up next to him enjoying hugs and scratches around the ears. For Julia, the most meaningful thing about working with the children at Emerge is the level of support and happiness Spencer brings. A big thank you to Julia and Spencer for their commitment and dedication in bringing joy and love to the children at Emerge!

Happy Retirement to Sheryl, Trace and Riley!

Sheryl Werner and her two dogs, Trace a Havanese and Riley a Bichon Frise, started volunteering with Gabriel’s Angels twelve years ago. They visited the Salvation Army homeless shelter twice a month until Covid restricted their visits. Once things started opening up, Sheryl was asked to volunteer with the Gabriel’s Angels ABC Program at Longview Elementary in Phoenix, with her two pawtners.  They also participated in many fundraisers and promotional events around the Valley along with GA staff.

Sheryl remembers that there were many visits that brought joy for the shelter families at the Salvation Army. The children (and many times adults as well) had fun while Sheryl conducted activities, facilitating through Trace and Riley, helping them build confidence while working on their self-regulation and empathy. She felt that it was amazing to see the response to positive reinforcement in action!

As a volunteer with the ABC Program, Sheryl had the opportunity to experience individual interaction for a longer period of time. The first semester had her hooked as she watched reading skills grow and shyness turn to confidence. She’ll never forgot one of her students who spoke in such a low voice that she could barely hear him, but by the end of their sessions, he was helping other students to read. Another class prepared a special Christmas program for the Pet Therapy team, thanking them for being there and gave the team a gift from proceeds they earned at the school festival.

When Sheryl was asked about the special qualities that she thought Trace and Riley brought to their visits, Sheryl said, “Both Riley, Trace and my first therapy dog, Abby, all have/had gentle and loving personalities along with instinctively knowing where they were supposed to be. They just seemed to know they were needed. We still go for walks and they immediately go toward the kids that are around!”

Sheryl, Trace and Riley enjoyed volunteering for Gabriel’s Angels because it gave them an opportunity to work with an organization that identified a need in our community. Sheryl felt that they could impact lives through pet therapy and hopefully make even a small difference in a child’s life. She also appreciated the training and support from everyone within the organization. Sheryl expressed, “I’m so glad that I found the GA booth on my weekend walk with Abby…it led me to an amazing and personally rewarding twelve year experience. I so enjoyed meeting the wide range of  people in the community working to improve the lives of these kids and hope to see the organization touch these kids for many more years!”

Thank you Sheryl, Trace and Riley for sharing your comfort, caring and compassion to the community and children we serve here at Gabriel’s Angels. We all are so very grateful to have had you all as part of our Gabriel’s Angels family. You all will be sorely missed! Happy Retirement!

Meet Judy – Helping Hand Volunteer

Judy is a Helping Hand Volunteer to Pet Therapy team, Sue and Tyrion, and visits with the children at Homeward Bound twice a month on Thursdays. In just a short time, this dynamite team has been able to introduce many activities to help teach essential core behaviors. Some of the activities included: learning how to groom Tyrion, writing a story of a trip to take with Tyrion and love letters, plus creating expressive art.

Recently, the team has been staying an extra 30 minutes so the children can read with Tyrion, a skill many of them are struggling with. Judy will lead an activity in the library, while each child has a few minutes one-on-one to read to Tyrion.

On a recent visit, Judy led the children in a game of dog bingo and it was a hit! The kids were excited and engaged to play the game, and though they struggled to find the words and names on the cards, Judy helped them through it continuing to build their confidence.

Gabriel’s Angels Helping Hand Volunteers are invaluable. These volunteers:
  • Partner with a Pet Therapy Team on visits
  • Help manage larger groups of kids
  • Collaborate in planning visit activities
Research confirms that pet therapy visits create a bond of unconditional love between a dog and child that allows for improving social and emotional development.
“It’s been such a pleasure observing the children interact with Tyrion over the past year! Tyrion creates a joyful and ‘in the present’ experience for everyone involved.” Thank you so much Judy, for being a Helping Hand volunteer with Pet Therapy team, Sue and Tyrion.
If you’re looking for a rewarding way to volunteer but you don’t own a therapy pet, consider becoming a Helping Hand. Attend a Virtual Volunteer Information Session at:  bit.ly/3xQRxpZ

From Stray to Therapy Dog – Meet Mardi

Mardi was found on Mardi Gras in Louisiana as a stray. She was placed in a high-kill shelter. Not much was known about her history, but it was suspected she was a rejected hunting dog.

Arizona Beagle Rescue offered to transport Mardi to Arizona where Cheyanne opened her home and heart to be her foster. Mardi was heartworm positive and required an intense four-month treatment, but Cheyanne knew that just after a few weeks that Mardi was hers!

Mardi at first did not display characteristics of a therapy dog – she was very skittish based on her previous life. She would run away terrified over the smallest things and wouldn’t let men pet her.

Cheyanne had lost her previous dog Sophie to cancer not long after Mardi was adopted. Sophie was Cheyanne’s first therapy dog with Gabriel’s Angels. Mardi was clearly not happy as an only dog, so along came Tiana. Mardi LOVED having a puppy to hang out with and after she was a year old, Tiana started doing therapy work with Gabriel’s Angels.

It took a lot of socialization, but Mardi soon became more comfortable around people and started seeking attention. With Mardi’s sweet and gentle disposition, Cheyanne decided to test her to be a therapy dog and she aced it. Cheyanne and Mardi are now a Pet Therapy team with the Animals, Books and Children program. Mardi is wonderful with the kids and the one-on-one reading has been a perfect role for her.

“Working with Gabriel’s Angels is like nothing I’ve ever done before when it comes to therapy dogs. We want everyone to succeed, and this is such a unique program to Arizona. Teaching and modeling core values like healthy attachments is so important for the kids we visit because you never know their background, and they may be afraid or not know how to bond and attach to others, but part of the goal is to help them bond with the dog. When we show up consistently, children learn that sense of attachment to someone they care about, and that’s, again, one of the many reasons why I love Gabriel’s Angels and the impact it has on children and their families,” explains Cheyanne.

Mardi is Cheyanne’s third therapy dog with Gabriel’s Angels, and we are honored that she is one of our volunteers, along with Mardi and Tiana!

To see Tiana and Cheyanne in action, check out this video. 


Copyright © 2020 Gabriels Angels, All Rights Reserved

Charity ID (EIN): 86-0991198

Arizona QCO: 20449

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