What is a Therapy Pet?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990), a dog is considered a "service dog" if it has been "individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability." Also according to the ADA, a 'disability' is a "mental or physical condition which substantially limits a major life activity". Therapy dogs volunteer with their handler to bring comfort and joy to those in need. Therapy dogs are not service dogs.

We are frequently asked "How can I make my dog a service dog so that I can take him/her everywhere I go?" The only way that a dog can be recognized as a true "service animal" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is when the following conditions are met:

The owner or handler has a documented disability as defined under the ADA, "….a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities".

A person who misrepresents their dog as a service animal is in violation of a federal law and subject to a heavy fine and/or imprisonment.

The Therapy Dog

"The therapy dog movement is based on the human – animal bond; the affection that dogs have for people and that people have for dogs. A therapy dog can be any size, body shape, breed, mixture of breeds, color, coat type, or sex. The assistance may be emotional: by showing the person being visited that he is loved and lovable. The person being visited may smile, cry, hug the dog, pet the dog, or laugh while the dog performs tricks.

The help might also be physical: encouraging a stroke victim to move an arm by petting the dog or throwing a ball for the dog. Any help the therapy dog provides is based upon the relationship – the bond – people and dogs have shared for thousands of years."
From "Love on a Leash", by Liz Palika (2013)
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