Service Dog Awareness Month (September)!

While we see Service Dog/Pet information and articles in the news, there is a lot of miss information out there. I’m finding more and more people are claiming to have a service animal when in fact their pet is not. It is troubling as it affects those that really do have a service animal and need them. When a “fake” service animal could potentially misbehave or even be aggressive in public when they aren’t properly trained, it can potentially affect those that have them.

Austell is a Service Dog. She is trained to stay in place and alert when her human is having distress.

Service Dogs/Pets are those animals that help an individual perform a certain function and are trained to perform certain tasks. Service dogs assist specific individuals that have a disability. These dogs can include any sex or breed as long as they are trained.

Where some confusion steps in with “Service Dogs” is there are also Emotional Support Dogs/Animals (ESA) as well as Therapy Dogs/Animals. Emotional Support dogs fall under SOME of the same guidelines as Service Dogs with regard to access and rules per the federal government, but are not granted all the same access as Service Dogs. ESAs help individuals with emotional problems by providing comfort and support. This could mean someone with PTSD or anxiety has an animal (not just dogs) that will alert or assist when an attack may occur. Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs also have more training to potentially guide a human or even pull them to safety if needed. ESAs aren’t necessarily trained this extensively, but they can be. It isn’t a requirement to be an ESA, but Service Animals MUST be trained and are also trained to stay in place when emergency personnel arrive if there is an emergency. Service Animals are the only ones that are considered “Medical Equipment”

Therapy dogs are a different category that can get lumped into service animals, but they are not allowed the same access as Service and Emotional Support animals. They are trained to provide comfort to people, especially in hospitals, nursing homes and schools. While therapy dogs receive training and need to have several levels of certification (Canine Good Citizen, etc) on how to handle themselves in public, medical facilities and around the people they’re comforting, they may not be trained to do specific task to help with a disability. Stay tuned for a separate blog post on just therapy animals and their roles and jobs to help humans.

The Americans with Disabilities Act through the Department of Justice has an excellent fact sheet on Service Animals and their requirements. See their website at:

While researching the information for this post, I found this article about “Fake Service Animals”. It is a good read and provides further information.

Whether you see a pet in public with or without a vest, please also don’t assume you can pet them. Always ask the owner/handler first if it is appropriate to approach the dog/pet. Usually the dogs with vests will have patches associating the dog as a Service Dog, Emotional Support Pet or Therapy Animal.

Austell has a longer handle on the back of her vest for pulling her human out of stressful or anxiety producing situations.

A big THANK YOU to our doggie model Austell and her human Courtney for sharing time with me and helping educate on Service Dogs. These dogs are super amazing.

Courtney has Cystic Fibrosis, Liver Fibrosis and Liver Cirrhosis and when her enzyme levels get too high Austell alerts. She also alerts when Courtney is having anxiety, about to have a panic attack, she knows how to find exit doors and their car. She can do deep pressure therapy and item retrieval as well. She will also help her human get off the ground.

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