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DisABILITY Series - Service Animals

We can sometimes underestimate how important animals are to our lives. If you've ever seen a service animal at work, however, you may witness how useful animals can be. Even an untrained animal can be a companion, a protector, and a friend, but service animals do all that and more. In many cases, a service animal can literally save your life.

Types of Service Animals

There are a few different varieties of service animals. The most well-known is a guide animal or, as it's better known, the seeing eye dog. They are trained specifically to guide the blind and vision-impaired.

There are hearing animals, who work with the deaf and hard of hearing. Another form of guide animal, hearing animals alert their owners to any noises, good or bad, that they should be aware of, from a car crash to a ringing phone.

There are many other types of service animals. People confined to wheelchairs, for example, find that a service animal can reach things that they can’t. Also, if you experience seizures, a service dog can be trained to assist you. Dogs can often predict seizures, can call for help if one occurs, physically blocking you from hurting yourself, and more.

Service animals don’t always need to be active, they can be appreciated as comfort animals. If you've ever been to a rest home, for example, you may have noticed a few resident cats roaming around. they're simply a different kind of service animal. Cats and dogs alike are great mood-boosters.

The fact is that service animals can be a boon to any number of different types of people with different challenges. Therapy animals are useful for any number of issues, from post-traumatic stress disorder to antisocial behavior to autism. There are hundreds of different conditions that can be helped with a service animal, although the choice of whether or not to get one is often a personal one.

Service Animal Varieties

When you think of service animals, you probably think of dogs, and there's a good reason for that; the majority of service animals are dogs. Dogs have been helping us out, in one way or another, for the last fifteen thousand years, so there shouldn't be any surprise that they're still doing it today.

Service animals aren't limited to dogs, however. We've already discussed therapy cats and the great effect they can have on mood. And although more rare, there are also helper monkeys. Helper monkeys are a type of highly-trained service animal trained specifically to help people with mobility issues. With their high intelligence and dexterity, a helper monkey can perform a wide variety of services. They can prepare food, turn switches, fetch medicines, and much more.

And while they're a much rarer sight, there are also therapy horses. As you might imagine, a full-size horse isn't the easiest animal to get in and out of a building, so miniature horses are often used. A mini horse is about the size of a dog, and just about as cute. Service horses can be used to guide the blind just like a dog and, due to their larger size and strength, a miniature horse can also pull wheelchairs, and have better eyesight than dogs.

Service Animal Laws

So, what is the legal status of service animals? The short answer is that, as far as property laws and restrictions go, a service animal is not treated like normal animals. As the ADA puts it, a business may ban pets from entering, but a service animal is no pet.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, commonly known as the ADA, it is illegal for any business to discriminate against individuals based on their disability. An individual with a service animal has the legal right to enter any business with their animal, regardless of the business' policy on animals.

If an individual with a service animal enters a business, they are entitled to certain rights under the ADA. They cannot, based on their disability or the presence of the service animal, be segregated, turned away, or charged any kind of fee.

There are, however, a few exceptions. If the service animal isn't provoked but is acting in a violent, destructive, or otherwise aggressive manner, you can still get kicked out. Much like a badly behaving customer, a service dog, and thus their owner, can be removed if they're acting in a dangerous manner.

Also, if the inclusion of the service animal would disrupt business in some huge way—like a service dog that is continuously barking during a movie, for example—they may be excluded. But these cases are fairly rare; if trained right, a service animal will be the best-behaved customer in the place. These rights don’t extend to private property, however.

Identifying Service Animals

So how do you identify a service animal? Usually, it's pretty easy. They typically have harnesses or other equipment not seen on normal dogs, and will often have some kind of identification. However, according to the Department of Justice, a service animal doesn't require any of these identifiers.

And while most states do have a certification process for service animals, service animal owners are not required to carry those papers on them. In short, if you have a service animal, you are not required to carry around paperwork proving it, and business owners are legally barred from insisting on seeing certification.


I'm on disability and my psychiatrist has diagnosed me with being perminantly disabled due to bi-polar, severe anxiety and depression. Do I qualify for having a service dog being that I haven't been diagnosed with PTSD ?

Hi Julie,

I would recommend speaking with someone with an organization that works with service dogs. Wishing you nothing but the best.

Yes, as long as you have the letter from the doctor it will do. You can train any dog you donot have to spend $10,000+ and wait 10+ on waiting list. Get a dog from spca puppy if like and get train from pet smart all 3 training it is $120each but there is discount if u do all 3. I have black lab from 4 months old and now she is almost 2yrs and have ssdi court today and Roxy is my service dog and she is going with me.

My new insurance has pet therapy down for coverance but how can optain a dog with training for my disabilitys and they dog i can get is a psa psychiatric services dog please answer back i want to know thanks

I have had a PSA psychiatric service dog for a handful of years now. He has been with me since about 7 months old and is pushing 8 years old now. He officially became my PSA service dog about 4 years ago. He had no special training but is well behaved for the most part... has gotten more grumpy as he gets older but rightdully so he has been through a lot in his life. I also know I wouldn't be alive today if not for him.
When I researched service dogs and types he is in the catagory of therapy/comfort dog BUT because of my diagnosis he can be classified as a PSA which is considered a working service animal as most therapy/comfort animals are not. So he has the same rights as a seeing eye dog where comfort dogs do not.... it is really just nit picking on the business you may want to enter.

Regardless service dogs on normal are not permitted in emergency rooms (although mine has been on several occasions).

As for identification and legally registering him. I had my psych prescribe me on original letterhead.. or it can be on a normal prescription slip. You then take that to your local pound and turn it in for his or her new license identification tag. In California the tag is shaped like the state of California and about 4 digits long and says assistant dog.Also the BEST part is once registered and licensed as an assistant dog/animal all the licensing fee's are waived from then on.

Vests you can order online, or patches to attach to a sweater or jacket they may already have.
Identifications cards as well can be orderednor make your own... its basically a medical id card.. dog info lic.# picture most of the time and prescribing doctor to call if verification is needed. You make your own and put in a luggage id holder or similar. Attached to leash or or even your keys or in your wallet or bus pass holder if you use one of those. Again not required but if you use the bus they still ask...I show his tag and it is acceptable. A vest also comes in handy here also as I have been the only one at the bus stop ad the driver saw my dog no vest and refused to stop. I have also been asked to go to the back f the bus as thedriver has allergies....
Simple immitation lamination of id tag is boxing tape on both sides cut the edges and it helps protect it. Eventhough no other verification is needed except showing the assistant dog license tag.
You may be asked what services they provide and having a copy of original prescription of the service animal on hand is always a good idea. If traveling it may be needed and if over a year old a new one is needed for most airlines and pre registration of the animal also so they can verify it is legitimate. Greyhound dont seem to care much but need to show papers.

A vest although not legally required really does help keep the questions to a minimal if any at all.

The only other place that I have had issues with is some court houses want you to file a special accommodation request form a minimum of 3 days prior to expected date of entering with a service dog (yet you have to enter to file it...go figure) and therapy dogs are often denied access.... hence why I had my Dr. Make him a PSA (which even then he has been senied because I didnt fill out the form prior... really just depends who is manning the door. Again vests help illiminate questionand help the animal enter without hassle. I know laws and rules have changed over the past few years cause the therapy dog and everyone getting one so to speak just for housing and to have them allowed really has made it bad for those of us who truely need them.

As for aggressive behavior... always carry an emergency muzzle. I hate doing it but if a disturbance happens aka a bark or aggressive behavior and the security or whoever sees that immediately the muzzzle is taken out, show your animal as a reminder; if not put on immediately then by the 2nd incident put it on immediately. normally you will be given more grace to stay especially if you need to do business there.

Last an accident is probably the worst thing that could happen to pay attention and if your dog tells you or pulls you to go it is probably for good reason. If you are waiting for a number to be called tell security or someone that you must take your service dog out to potty and you do not want to loose your place in line... most business will understand and hold your place an d if called while out you will be next when you return. They don't want accidents either.

I live in Massachusetts I have stage 4 Cancer I want to register my Golden Retriever as a Companion dog but none of my doctors know anything about it. Can I just have any of them write me a perscriptin for it?

HI Carol,
You may want to contact organizations in the state that certify companion dogs. You may also want to speak with your doctors regarding this as well if you dog can be of medical use.

Hi Breanna,
You don't need to, but many people who require service dogs may qualify for disability benefits.

my brother passed away we have the same problem aps with hughe syndrom. He gave me his dog due to the same problem
I have a list of witnesses and a drr note stating I need this dog is there any way i can get her. his ex wife said she wasn't going to take her but she brought a police officer to pick her up. her daughter is allergic to her and roxy was given to me his last wishes were for me to have her. Can you please help in any way

Hi Marybeth,
I'm very sorry for your loss.
I'm not sure what to do re: Roxy, however you may want to contact your health insurance provider to find out if they cover service animals of any kind.

Hi. I m on SSD and SSI for psych reasons. My dog just passed away last month and I am very, very depressed. I want to adopt a new dog, but I am not able to take care of medical bills except the very basic routine ones. I live in NYS. I have been told that there is an agency that will help people pay for pets medical bills, but I can't find it. Can you help me please? Thank you.

Hi Kristan,
I am sorry to hear that. I am not sure which agency you are referring to--I have personally never heard of health insurance paying for a service dog, but there may be a local NY organization that can help you out.

You state that emotional support animals (ESA) are service animals and they are NOT. ESA's do not have public access rights like SD's do, you need to check your facts.

My ex husband (and current partner) is on disability and receives Medicare and Medicaid. We are in TN.
His Doctor said that a Service Dog for Anxiety and for his physical disabilities (sever emphysema and COPD and Osteoarthritis) would help him significantly, however we cannot afford the cost.
Wil Medicare cover that cost?

Hi Gina,
Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover the cost of service animals.

Hi hope all is well. Ok I need a duel dog lol a service dog sometimes I fall so it would have to stand at a stance so I could pull up on him they up ,and In my hands shake and I have been out and the shakes got so bad it was my whole body ,I would like him to be able to help me to the car. and my muscles in my legs jump but those are OK I've to go see a nuro they say it. looks like I Mike have early stages of parkasons then. OMG the mental problems.ptsd,ferdim ,bipolar,I have alot of up and downs ,I have alot of fears,I don't like to be I big crowds. I don't like to. baloney,so on!!! And as I was reading will medicad really pay for your dog OMG I found this beautiful p.s.hey to the person that said that how do you know. Thank you all

I am going through a separation from my husband and he refuses allow me to get my therapy/service dog. I have severe PTSD and antisocial disorder along with severe epilepsy whhat xan i do get her in my custody.

Hi Kimberly,
I wish I could be more helpful, but I don't really have much knowledge about divorce law to confidently give you advice. It may be a good idea to explain fully to your husband that you need the dog as a therapeutic necessity rather than just a dog.

Is there funds available to me in kansas to train my dog as a service dog in the psychiatric/emotional categories like a state website if so what is websites or any resource funding at all would be helpful thank you

My ACD is considered my service dog but for now all he really does is protect me and sometimes is a comfort to have around. I need to have him trains and. Mobility dog for picking up things or physically supporting me to get up, etc. Does disability cover the training? I am very low income.

Hi Angie,
It may be a good idea to contact the office in your state that handles medicaid, as they would be able to give you some more insight into local programs that may be able to help you further.

Where can I get my dog trained in Ohio to be a service dog and how can I get someone to pay for it I'm on Medicare do you know if anybody could help me pay for it

Hi Lisa,

I would recommend speaking to someone at your state in regards to medicare.

Best Wishes,

I am on Social Security Disability for debilitating depression and chronic anxiety and as of late my life has really been unbearable. This is why I'm thinking, about getting a psychiatric service dog to help with my daily life. The problem is that I now live in a small town, Springfield, Mo. (The puppy mill capital of the U.S.) and I have no idea where to go to find a therapy dog trained for my particular disability but that is also affordable at the same time. I am having little luck finding any information online. Can you please help me?

Hi Lisa,
You may want to contact the office that handles Medicaid for the state of Missouri, they may be able to give you more specific information about this.

My 14 yr has Medicaid in Texas. She has been approved for a PSD but the cost may prohibit us from getting the dog. I am looking for resources in Texas. Can you please help with any?
Thank you

Hi Robin,
You may want to contact the office in Texas that administers Medicaid, they may be better able to help you find a service dog.

Hi I'm from Massachusetts i would like to know how much they cost and would insurance help

Hi Dawn,
I really could not say how much they cost, but some insurance plans may cover service animals.

My mother in law suffers from epilepsy and she was wanting to inquire about getting a service animal to be with her when we can't be is there a website or somewhere I can contact about that...her disability is through Louisiana

Hi Courtney,
If your mother in law is receiving Medicaid, then you may want to contact the office in LA that adminsters Medicaid benefits, they can give you detailed information about service animal coverage.

Does anybody in NE help people with PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and major depression disabilities?

hi im from California i am wanting to get my dog registration for service dog she is the only thing that helps when i have my bad panick attacks and anxity attacks she comforts me and she is with me 24-7 how can i get a free registration certificate for her i get ssi

Hi Tobi,
You may want to contact the office in your state that handles Medicare and Medicaid, they may be able to direct you to someone who can certify your dog as a service animal.

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I have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and I don't even have a service dog. I would like to have a service dog.

Hi Erica,
You may be able to have a service dog; however I'm not sure what role it would play in managing diabetes.