Therapy vs Service & ESA

Therapy Pets, Service Animals, and Emotional Support Animals are not the same.

Love on a Leash® certifies Therapy Pets. The chart below summarizes the allowed activities for each type of animal. You’ll also find definitions and detailed descriptions for each type of animal on this page.

Allowed Activity Service Dog Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Certified Therapy Pet
Legal right to be in all public
places with the person they are assisting.
Allowed Not Allowed Not allowed
May live with disabled owners
regardless of pet policy
Allowed Allowed Not Allowed
May accompany disabled owners on
commercial airlines
Allowed esa-airlines-symbol-lg Allowed* Not Allowed
Specifically trained to assist
one individual
Allowed Not Allowed Not Allowed
Provides companionship and
emotional comfort to to many people
Not Allowed Not Allowed Allowed
Must be trained to tolerate a wide
range of environments and people
Allowed Not Allowed Allowed
*restrictions may apply


A Service Animal is a dog or miniature horse that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. 

Service Animals are legally defined and protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Any breed or size of dog may be a service dog; miniature horses are between 24″ and 34″ to the shoulders. Service Animals are individually trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a disability; this may include a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The work or tasks performed by a Service Animal must be directly related to the handler’s disability. Examples of Service Animal tasks include, but are not limited to:

  • assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks.
  • alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds.
  • pulling a wheelchair or retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone.
  • assisting an individual during a seizure or alerting individuals to the presence of allergens.
  • providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities.
  • helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.

Emotional support, comfort, and companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of the Service Animal definition. Service Animals are not subject to “pet rules” that may be required by housing providers for companion animals. For example, housing providers cannot impose size or weight restrictions upon Service Animals, exclude them from areas where people are generally welcome, or restrict facility access to a particular door or elevator. They also cannot require special tags, identification, equipment, or certification. 

Businesses may legally ask two questions: “Is the dog a service animal required for a disability?” and “What task or work has the dog been trained to perform?”.  Love on a Leash® does not train or certify Service Animals. For more information about service animals, visit


ESAs are prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness. They may live with their owners regardless of pet policy but are not legally entitled to be in all public places.

These companions may also be pets and may include a variety of different types of animals. ESAs are not individually trained to perform specific tasks, or recognize signs or symptoms, like Service Animals are. ESAs are not necessarily task-trained like Therapy Pets or Service Animals. It is important to remember that the ADA does not grant Emotional Support Animal owners the same right of access to public places that it gives to individuals who use psychiatric Service Animals. That means that a movie theater, for example, must allow psychiatric Service Animals to accompany their owners into the movie auditorium but may refuse to admit individuals with Emotional Support Animals. Two specific federal laws are applicable to ESAs: the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA).


The ACAA ensures airlines do not refuse or limit services to persons with disabilities. This means commercial airlines must permit Emotional Support Animals to accompany qualified passengers on a flight. While airlines cannot require passengers traveling with a Service Animal to provide written documentation that the animal is a Service Animal, the same is not true for Emotional Support Animals. Airlines may ask for proof that the animal is an ESA. Contact the individual airline carriers for their specific requirements.


The FHA provides certain protections for ESAs that are not available to most pets, but require the ESA owner to have a diagnosed disability and provide documents of their disability-related need to the housing provider. This means an individual with a disability may be entitled to keep an Emotional Support Animal in housing facilities that otherwise would not allow pets. The assistance the animal provides must directly relate to the person’s emotional or psychological disability.

Love on a Leash® does not train or certify Emotional Support Animals. Individuals who have emotional disabilities they believe would be helped by an ESA should consult a licensed mental health professional.


Some states have laws that provide additional protections and restrictions to the ADA. Generally, the broader protection, state or federal, will apply. As long as federal law applies, the ADA trumps or “preempts” any more restrictive state law.

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