Let’s Talk About Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, and Therapy Dogs

pepe and carolyn for service dog blog

After a brief hiatus, we’re back! After some banter, we get into the difference between service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs.


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We all know people with disabilities face discrimination, even more so when they have a service dog – and you can triple that discrimination when they have a dog who does not match people’s expectations of what a service dog should look like.

We’ve written before about why people need emotional support animals. Not respecting that need is also discrimination. We’ve seen that play out with Delta’s ban on service and emotional support dogs visually identified as “pit bulls.”

Tackling the individual subjects of service dogs and emotional support animals requires a lot of unpacking. Before we do a deep dive, we wanted to lay the groundwork and establish some basics.

There is a difference between an emotional support animal and a service dog – a difference that the media and the public often do not understand. Sometimes, the term therapy dog gets thrown around as if it were synonymous with both of those terms.

We also talk about our personal thoughts on the instances of people faking disabilities in order to take their dogs into non-dog friendly spaces. We touch on the importance of language here and why we need to stop saying “faking a service dog” and reframe it in the proper context, which is that people are actually faking a disability.

And on that topic, we want to make sure that business owners and employees know how they can protect their customers and protect the rights of people with disabilities.

As you can tell, we cover a lot of issues under this topic! Grab a drink and listen to us go on some tangents.

You can follow Pepe the Service Dog on Instagram and see some pics of service dog Koda on his person’s account. You can keep track of Regina’s guide dog on Facebook.

*There are some times in this episode where we reference that an emotional support animal is prescribed by a doctor or physician, but they can be prescribed by any mental health care professional.

Want to be on our podcast to talk about the intersection of animal welfare and social justice? Want to yell at us for our opinions? Email us!

Regina: [00:00:02] OK. Hi and welcome to the Individual Animal, a podcast about dogs people and discrimination. And I almost forgot what I was supposed to say because it’s been a month since we’ve recorded a podcast or longer. So welcome back everyone. I’m Regina and that is Nikki. [00:00:22][19.9]

Nikki: [00:00:24] Hi everyone. And I must say even though it’s been a while that intro was very radio voice. Nice job. [00:00:32][8.3]

Regina: [00:00:33] Oh I know I’ve been listening to you know the past podcasts like “oh God I sound horrible.” I think when we first started I was doing like my nice voice and I was just like lazy and then… And I don’t know if you remember but once you called my voicemail, and you were like, “that doesn’t even sound like you.” And that that’s my that’s my special professional voice. [00:00:56][23.7]

Nikki: [00:00:59] Wow. [00:00:59][0.0]

Regina: [00:01:00] I’m trying to remember to use that voice now on a podcast. Oh yeah. [00:01:06][5.9]

Regina: [00:01:07] It’s a lot nicer. It’s also the voice I used to use when I would teach yoga. Nice and soothing. [00:01:12][4.9]

Regina: [00:01:15] and relaxing. You’ll probably have to take this out, but my friends used to call it my phone sex voice. [00:01:20][4.7]

Nikki: [00:01:23] It is very like, mellow. I feel like I’ll probably start mimicking it. No matter who I’m talking to feel like I’m talking to somebody with an accent, all of a sudden within like five minutes, I have an accent! So that might happen. [00:01:41][18.3]

Regina: [00:01:42] Apparently, I talk like this normally I have a friend in New York who is a massage therapist and so she would like give you these really deep discounts on massages and I would actually talk like this all of the time without even having to think about it. So I guess this is my actual voice but thanks to anxiety and stress and whatever else….. [00:02:05][23.0]

Nikki: [00:02:10] So also I wanted to thank you. [00:02:15][4.9]

Nikki: [00:02:15] while we’re on the topic of podcast and podcasting. I finished that Bear Brook podcast within three days, so good recommendation. [00:02:33][17.3]

Nikki: [00:02:34] Yeah. It’s really good. We could leave this in if anybody’s into true crime. The bear book podcast is great. Very sad also but great. [00:02:44][10.5]

Nikki: [00:02:46] Very sad. But let’s let’s segue into….. [00:02:49][3.7]

Regina: [00:02:54] Well this like this feels like an old school podcast where we did banter in the beginning. And it’s just the two of us podcasting which also feels very old school. [00:03:06][11.5]

Regina: [00:03:07] Yes. So we’re talking about service dogs emotional support animals and therapy dogs because we want to talk about the differences and also talk about some of the problems that crop up in reality and then also how some of that may get overblown in the media. But I think we’re going to focus a lot on emotional support animals because that’s often what comes up most in the media and where a lot of the misunderstandings I guess seem to happen. I think a lot of this is prompted by Delta and their ban on dogs labeled pit bull for service dogs or emotional support dogs. [00:03:51][44.7]

Nikki: [00:03:51] And just like with the media and articles we read, it seems like they’re using these three words interchangeably in the media. In fact what reason why we kind of want to go talk about it a little bit more and I was actually thinking about this today is I wonder if people…. Service dog is usually used for all three which is obviously not factual and we’ll get into that… [00:04:24][32.1]

Nikki: [00:04:24] But I wonder just because the dogs are doing a service, right, whether you’re a therapy dog and emotional support dog or a service dog, so I was just wondering like maybe that’s why people just use the word service dog for these three not understanding that they are three very different dogs. [00:04:41][17.3]

Regina: [00:04:42] Yeah I think I don’t think you know anybody necessarily means to misuse the language obviously. I’ve seen when some politicians talk about legislation and they they use the wrong words too. So it’s definitely a major problem that even our legislators don’t know the correct terminology because sometimes they say therapy dog when they’re referring to a psychiatric service dog, they will say a therapy dog. You can see why that happens. It makes absolute sense why why someone would use that language. But it just really confuses things for the general public. [00:05:21][39.2]

Nikki: [00:05:23] So let’s tell people what the differences are. And I think because you have a service dog. Why don’t we start with service dogs what they are doing. [00:05:32][9.0]

Regina: [00:05:33] If anybody doesn’t know I have a service dog. [00:05:36][3.0]

Regina: [00:05:40] In case you don’t know you can follow him on Facebook at Buttons the Shiba. [00:05:44][4.3]

Regina: [00:05:49] So a service dog just works for one person and that person has to have a disability. And that disability can be visible, that disability can be invisible, that disability can be mental. [00:06:08][18.5]

Regina: [00:06:08] So you know like we just said, a psychiatric service dog. At AFF, we train psychiatric service dogs and we train hearing dogs and then mobility dogs – so dogs that help people in wheelchairs or dogs that do things like bracing and balance. [00:06:23][14.5]

Nikki: [00:06:26] And they’re working right. They’re not considered pets, correct? [00:06:30][3.4]

Regina: [00:06:30] They’re not considered pets because they have a job. So let me back up a bit before I got more into that. So these dog have to be trained to perform individual tasks for their person. So even a psychiatric service dog, their job isn’t just to be there and sit next to the person so that they can pet them. [00:06:52][21.6]

Regina: [00:06:53] So I think a good example would be one of the things we train is a deep pressure therapy. If somebody is having a panic attack or maybe their blood pressure started to go up and they’re about to have a panic attack, that dog will lay on top of them and do deep pressure therapy – which you know if you think about how popular we did blankets have become, it’s sort of the same thing. Obviously you can’t take a weighted blanket out with you in public. So you know that’s where then the dog can come in if that’s happening to somebody while they’re out. And lots of people for a variety of reasons could have major debilitating anxiety attacks in public. [00:07:31][37.8]

Regina: [00:07:32] So I feel like this might be another topic but there is a lot of discrimination even in the service dog community about why people would need a psychiatric service dog. But I guess that’s another topic. [00:07:43][11.2]

Nikki: [00:07:46] One of our psychiatric service dogs actually has an Instagram page. If you’re interested in following what he does, I think it’s just @pepetheservicedog. [00:07:59][12.8]

Regina: [00:08:10] Carolyn is really funny. I love all of her captions so it’s an account that deserves a lot of followers. [00:08:21][10.4]

Nikki: [00:08:24] It does. I remember when I first followed by the tagline on this thing, it’s like,” I’m a full bred blah blah blah blah.” Like I think it’s “Pomeranian Japanese chin” or something. And I was like “wow, really weird,” and you know me, I’m psycho about breed labels. And she was just doing it to be funny. Yeah. [00:08:48][24.0]

Regina: [00:08:48] I thought it was great. She was actually like spreading our message of you know you can’t visually identify a dog and labels don’t matter. Yeah she’s she’s good and sarcastic so she fits right in with the AFF family. [00:09:03][15.0]

Regina: [00:09:07] Oh so so tasks. Yes. So that that is the main difference between, because some people get confused like what’s the difference between an ESA and a service dog. And it’s the training because emotional support animals don’t have to have any training because they don’t perform any tasks. And typically and we’ll get to the exceptions later, they are not allowed public access. So they can’t go to a store with you. There’s no reason for them to be in a store with you you don’t need an emotional support animal to manage your daily life. [00:09:44][36.1]

Regina: [00:09:44] So you know I have a guide dog and I know I probably really don’t need to go into everything he does because that’s kind of obvious. Most people know what he does but you know like, Fiona, who has one of our service dogs Koda, he helps her pick things up he helps brace…. Her all of those things. And often, to look at Fiona, you also wouldn’t think she had anything wrong with her because she has M.S. But a lot of times you can’t tell. She seems perfectly healthy. So I know she faces discrimination a lot when she is healthy and not showing any symptoms. and then even when she is showing symptoms, sometimes you still can’t tell because you’re not inside her body. I think I’m rambling though… [00:10:29][44.7]

Nikki: [00:10:32] No, it’s important to talk about. When you see a service dog, you should assume that that’s a service dog. [00:10:38][6.3]

Regina: [00:10:42] And the default, unfortunately, is to assume that it’s not a service dog. [00:10:44][2.9]

Regina: [00:10:45] I mean I I have people all of the time that like they will say, “is he really a guide dog?” Yeah I’m really blind! And if you watch me in a store, I’m either using my phone to magnify what I’m looking at or I’m like feeling up all the product so I can tell when I’m looking at. [00:11:04][18.6]

Regina: [00:11:11] But you know people I mean think about it. People even default asking me like I always have my foldable cane attached to my bag so you can see this big ass white cane attached to my purse. And people are still like Are you sure you’re blind. So you know if if people discriminate against me or someone where it’s really obvious then I mean imagine what someone who doesn’t have a visible and I’m going to say traditional disability because that’s what people think of my disability. [00:11:41][30.2]

Regina: [00:11:42] But, that’s not a traditional disability. Disabilities are so varied. Somebody can have the same disability as someone else, but the way it affects them in the way they deal with that disability could be completely different. [00:11:53][11.4]

Regina: [00:11:58] I was just saying like human blindness it’s a spectrum. I mean there are some people who are blind who can see better than I can and then obviously some people who see worse than I can’t or don’t see at all. [00:12:06][8.2]

Nikki: [00:12:07] So yeah and then there’s people that don’t have your traditional dogs, like our dogs are not traditional looking service dogs. The other day I was at the airport and I saw a chow that was a service dog. Not your traditional looking service dog. I think people tend to be more skeptical when that’s the case. You also don’t have a typical looking service dog. [00:12:34][27.3]

Regina: [00:12:34] Well yeah and that’s that’s something that I deal with because he is small. I mean it’s not super small he’s 30 pounds. I could not have a dog that was smaller, it just wouldn’t work for my needs. But he works for my needs. And that’s something when people think about our dogs, is that our dogs work for the people who we place them with. They work for their needs and that’s really what matters. I mean I had someone… I get a lot of these messages on my dog’s Facebook page from people who are trying to catch me… Like you know these gotcha things… somebody said “how does your dog do such heavy mobility?” And I’ll never forget this question because he’s alerting me to stuff that’s in front of me or next to me! He’s not dragging my wheelchair. He’s not doing heavy mobility. [00:13:24][49.5]

Regina: [00:13:26] And it isn’t To get anybody else’s business, really. [00:13:29][2.4]

Nikki: [00:13:29] You know that is the what’s the most important thing. If a dog is behaving in public, it is not your business. people think that because someone has a dog that that just automatically means their entire life is open to you or because someone has a disability that that means their entire life is open to you. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this photo that goes around a lot of someone who is in a wheelchair and they’re standing up to grab something off of a shelf and the text on the meme says, “it’s a Christmas miracle.” And as people who are in wheelchairs often can walk but they can’t walk around an entire store so they can still up to grab something. So but if someone saw them do that with a service dog would be like, “oh that’s a fake service dog. they’re using a wheelchair when they don’t need to.” You know discrimination is so ridiculous and like you said it is not anybody’s business. And the fact that people automatically assume when they see a service dog, “well it must be fake no matter even if the person has an obvious disability.” And that’s just something really wrong with our society and I know that everybody says well if there weren’t so many fake service dogs people wouldn’t think that. But honestly I know I know so many people with service dogs who’ve encountered aggressive dogs in public but there are more responsible service dog handlers out there than not. And so I think a lot of this is not that it’s not a problem but there’s just a lot of hysteria that doesn’t need to be there. Yeah. [00:15:07][97.6]

Nikki: [00:15:07] Let’s talk about faking a service dog because that’s not really what people are doing right. So there are jerks out there that do fake disabilities. They’re not faking a service dog, they’re faking a disability which is very fucked up. [00:15:25][17.7]

Regina: [00:15:26] Yeah. And I think if we talk about it in those terms that will make people who do it think twice about it. Now some people are assholes and we’ll do it anyway. But people like what’s the harm in just bringing my dog somewhere. But if you put it in the context of you are faking a disability then that helps people see what the harm is. [00:15:46][20.5]

Nikki: [00:15:47] Yeah and when you when you are irresponsible about taking dogs places it’s really hard for people with disabilities to continue to do what they need to do with their dogs because of the people that are faking disabilities bringing their dogs. where they shouldn’t be going. [00:16:07][19.5]

Nikki: [00:16:14] And then giving business owners… something I wanted to talk about where they feel like they can’t say anything to dogs that are you know not acting appropriately. Sometimes people fake disabilities and pretend like their dog their service dogs and then those dog act like jerks because they’re not used being in public or trained. So do you know what questions store owners can ask if they see a service dog? [00:16:41][26.7]

Regina: [00:16:52] There’s two they can ask: Is this a service dog? Which is easy for anyone to lie about right. You just say yes. And then they can ask “what tasks does the dog perform?” Now I will say one thing I’m not clear on is how descriptive you have to be before it gets like invasive and I guess that maybe that’s up to the person. So I’m going to have to clarify that. So I’ll put that in in the show notes and in the blog. You know for me if someone asked me that I will say you know he alerts me to objects in my periphery because I have no peripheral vision or helps me see objects in front of me that may be low contrast. But you can’t ask someone about their medical history. You can’t ask them what disability they have because that’s that’s private that’s personal and I’m sure you don’t want to disclose your medical history to a stranger. [00:17:58][65.3]

Nikki: [00:17:59] Right. And I actually saw a video of a store owner where the owners handled it really well. Where they asked what tasks does this dog perform, because they weren’t really sure. I Think the dog was like acting up or something and the woman said that “he emotionally supports me” because she didn’t know what she was talking about. The guy was very polite and said that the dog needed to perform a task to be a service dog [00:18:30][31.1]

Regina: [00:18:35] Now what’s interesting is that if someone has an obvious disability they’re not supposed to ask. So. And that includes being blind. The thing is I think my disability isn’t always totally obvious. I mean I guess it’s obvious when I walk into a store and have my came with me. And if you really looked at me you can tell. But you know. But I do think that’s a little weird though. I feel like that’s still discrimination that there are some people you can’t ask, then everybody else is kind of like fair game. I think If you can if you should ask one person with a disability you shift ask everybody just to keep the playing field even I guess. [00:19:17][42.4]

Nikki: [00:19:18] But at some point you’re sort of being a dick. If you’re asking somebody in a wheelchair….. [00:19:21][3.0]

Regina: [00:19:25] But also to to this point though you know like you said a lot of store owners don’t feel like they have any recourse or anything. And but if a dog is barking, lunging… even if a dog if a dog has an accident…. So like we said service dogs can just have accidents because stuff happens. But if that person was going to continue shopping with their dog after it had an accident, that’s wrong. So that’s not good for the dog. And that’s also you know the store owner doesn’t know if that dog is going to have another accident. So they can and should ask that person to leave. the store owner should document that and like this is what happened. [00:20:06][40.9]

Regina: [00:20:13] You know when I have heard horror stories of and these are people who have service dogs who have seen this happen where a dog has an accident in public and the person just walks away from it and just looks at their like first of all that that’s doesn’t say anything about the dog doesn’t even say anything about whether or not the person has a disability that just as that person is a dick. [00:20:35][22.2]

Regina: [00:20:43] I want to make clear that I’m not saying that this kind of stuff isn’t a problem and doesn’t happen. But again because it does. But most people are responsible because they care about their dog. So another thing like service dog handlers like our dogs we care about our dogs and we want to do the right thing by our dogs too and keeping our because you know I know if my dog is having an off day and I can tell. And that could be variety of reasons like maybe he didn’t have enough exercise so he’s just got a little bit too much energy or something like I will sometimes change my plans and go home you know because that’s the responsible thing to do and then that’s my fault because I didn’t I know he needs exercise and stimulation or he can be kind of a mess. I say that….. I’m saying a mess and Nikki will tell you that that means my dog maybe sniffed one thing while we were out. I’m very overly cautious about his behavior but that. But that’s because of all of the fake service dog stuff and in the media you know and I feel like we have a responsibility to be the best team we can be. But I also think most handlers feel that way too though. But you know dogs are not robots so you know no dog is going to be absolutely perfect and the reality is no service dog handler actually expects their dog to be perfect. I’m on I’m on a tangent now which is going to happen a lot. So this is like the tangent podcast. [00:22:26][103.3]

Nikki: [00:22:27] Yeah that’s fine. So service dogs have to perform a task. They also have to be on a leash or tethered unless their task requires them not to be. And they also their individual must be in control of them at all times. [00:22:46][18.8]

Regina: [00:22:47] So right. Yeah. So there are some psychiatric service dogs and if you the best way I’m. Example I’m going to use this one for a veteran is that they may due to their experiences and their trauma,, They may feel uncomfortable entering a crowded space without knowing that that space is safe. So some service dogs will go into a space look around and then go back and you know so that their handler knows it’s OK for them to go into that space. I know sometimes those dogs are just on a long tether but other times they just go out on their own and then come back and then they get and then they get leashed. [00:23:33][45.3]

Nikki: [00:23:37] Even if they’re not on the leash for that moment, the handler still has control over the dog. [00:23:45][8.0]

Regina: [00:23:45] Yeah, those dogs have to have impeccable recall and that is an instance where a dog has to be perfect on recall because you can’t have a loose dog going you know and and sniffing people and then the dogs aren’t doing their job and also not helping their handler. So that’s dangerous for their their handler too. [00:24:02][16.9]

Nikki: [00:24:02] And who can train a service dog? [00:24:10][7.8]

Regina: [00:24:12] Anyone. I trained my own dog. [00:24:14][1.9]

Regina: [00:24:19] I don’t necessarily advocate that people train their own dog because it’s a lot harder. I mean it is it’s a it really is a full time job. And you know when I started out I didn’t know any thing, so that was also really dumb of me. [00:24:37][17.8]

Nikki: [00:24:42] But you have friends who are dog trainers, so, it’s a little bit different…you weren’t just you know. [00:24:45][2.9]

Regina: [00:24:45] Yeah. Yeah I was very lucky. I know a lot of dog trainers. I know a behaviorist a mean. So I had people that I could go to and ask. I didn’t know anyone that physically lived in my area. So I was doing a lot of it. So I guess you could say a lot of it was like online help that I had. But I was so lucky that I didn’t have to pay anyone for this. I think a lot of people who train their own dogs, they say they trained that they own are trained but they also did work with someone. [00:25:17][31.1]

Nikki: [00:25:19] So once the dog is trained like what certification do they need? [00:25:22][3.0]

Regina: [00:25:24] You don’t need any. There is no federal registry for service dogs. All of those registries you see online are fake and mean absolutely nothing. [00:25:39][14.6]

Regina: [00:25:40] They are just people trying to steal your money. And I. It sucks that they are not illegal but you know they do that fine print stuff that lets them operate legally and it’s sad because they also really muddy the waters and make people think that there need to be registries or that there are registries and there aren’t. [00:26:00][19.9]

Nikki: [00:26:03] And one more thing I want to include on the service dogs, and then we should probably move on unless you have anything else to add. When I see a service dog, I should go right up to it and start petting it? [00:26:12][9.2]

Regina: [00:26:16] No. I mean I think most people know that. Of course people pet my dog all the time. People are even eye level with my dog and with his patches and then they’ll be like “oh I didn’t realize he was a service dog,” two minutes after they’d been sitting there petting him. Yes you did. You’re just a dick. Yeah but also don’t make eye contact with the dog or talk to the dog. A lot of you don’t realize the eye contact thing but you know that’s you distracting the dog from doing its task. And for me, if I’m in a really crowded space or space that’s unfamiliar, that’s truly putting me in danger. And it’s that way for most handlers of service dogs. Otherwise they wouldn’t have the dog. I let people pet my dog a lot. If they ask. But not everybody with a service dog wants you to pet their dog – in fact not everybody with a dog wants you to pet their dog. The dogs are not there for your entertainment. They’re there for their person, regardless of whether or not they’re a service dog. [00:27:31][74.8]

Nikki: [00:27:33] Well it’s real hard because dogs are super cute. [00:27:35][2.6]

Regina: [00:27:36] Yeah they are. [00:27:37][0.6]

[00:27:37] I mean I’ve been in places where there were we’ve seen another service dog and I just… I love dogs! I want to pet that dog and I can’t and it sucks. I also want to talk to the handler about their experience and have that solidarity, but I also don’t do that because they’re living their lives. Tat’s something so important to remember, when someone is out there with their service dog and they are living their life and five other people may have asked them if they can pet their dog. It’s not just you that’s asking. And again I’m only speaking about my experiences because they’re mine. I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but I went to a big festival once and I spent more time fielding questions about my dog than I really did enjoying myself. I mean there were hundreds of people there. People are there to live their life. They’re not on display. It doesn’t matter if they have a dog. And if you I think think about it this way… of course dogs are family and dogs are companions, but the dog is there to perform a service… [00:28:54][76.2]

Nikki: [00:28:55] But it comes with the territory of owning a service dog. You kind of have to expect that. [00:28:58][3.5]

Regina: [00:28:59] Unfortunately Yeah you do. I mean I expect it with my dog. He is very cute! I put a bow tie on him which makes him even cuter. So I know why people ask… But it’s also, as the general public we need to respect other. We need to respect other people and their personal space and their personal lives. Also understand that no is a complete sentence. I do not owe you an explanation for why you cannot pet my dog. [00:29:34][34.1]

Nikki: [00:29:35] Absolutely. [00:29:35][0.0]

Regina: [00:29:36] I can just say no. I don’t have to say “no I’m sorry,” because I just I may be doing something. I’ve had people interrupt me when I’m having a conversation with someone and asked to pet my dog. No! I’m I’m talking. I could be having a really personal deep conversation with someone. You don’t know. So all you are going to get from me is a no. [00:29:53][17.8]

Regina: [00:30:00] That’s a complete sentence. You don’t need any more than that. I don’t owe you that. And that’s thing people with service dogs don’t owe you anything. [00:30:05][5.1]

Nikki: [00:30:06] And to go back to what we said before it’s just not your business. [00:30:08][2.7]

Nikki: [00:30:17] Let’s move on to therapy dogs, which do not need to perform any specific tasks. [00:30:22][5.3]

Nikki: [00:30:23] So that’s one difference between a therapy dog and a service dog. Therapy dogs are used in facilities to give people companionship, to give people affection, and to help with lowering blood pressure, and heart rate, and reducing anxiety increasing endorphins and oxytocin. So they go into facilities like hospital and or other nursing homes. [00:30:51][28.6]

Regina: [00:30:52] A lot of courts are using them now especially for children, to help children who need to testify and and stuff like that. They are used often after mass tragedies. We’ve just had two in this country just now and I am sure that therapy dogs will be deployed to help the people coping. I know that Aladdin, who did one of our ‘We Are Individuals’ PSAs, is one. He’s a therapy dog and he was in Florida after the Pulse nightclub shooting. But he also goes into a lot of hospitals and helps a lot of kids. So they perform really important work. [00:31:40][48.5]

Nikki: [00:31:42] But there are certification programs for therapy dogs that they must complete [00:31:48][6.0]

Regina: [00:31:55] There’s a lot of liability related things going on for the facility that’s going to have them in there. [00:32:00][5.3]

Nikki: [00:32:01] Therapy dogs can only into facilities if a facility approved them. So they can’t just show up at a hospital….. [00:32:12][11.1]

Regina: [00:32:21] Correct. they have to be invited and it is not the same as the general public access that a service dog has. Which I guess we we sort of kind of glossed over. But I can take my dog almost anywhere because he is there for my accessibility. So anywhere I can go, he can go. The are some exceptions though. Hospitals, in general he can go into, but there are some wards that maybe he can’t go into and that’s just because his presence could literally kill somebody. So there are some places that he can’t go. Then also churches are exempt from the ADA, as well, which is interesting. But I’ve taken him into churches. I can’t imagine a church turning someone with disabilities away, but you never know. [00:33:16][54.7]

Regina: [00:33:21] So yes therapy dogs have to be invited. But you know I think people probably say like “hey I have a therapy dog. I’d love to bring him to your facility to bring some joy to the people.” And there are some interesting rules depending on the certifying organization. I actually just learned last night that some organizations don’t accept raw fed dogs. If you feed your dog raw…. Because they’re worried about the dog licking the person. If they still have that food residue in their mouth….. and then you know for immunocompromised people. [00:34:04][43.2]

Regina: [00:34:09] Yeah it makes sense but I also learned though that those that do allow it…. Like you can’t feed your dog that morning, or you have to have like a certain amount of time in between but then also some that just for kibble fed dogs like you know you can’t feed the dog in the morning before you go or something like that. So the dog’s not going to starve. But yeah. So there are some interesting regulations around that. And again they they make sense but there is there’s a lot that goes into a therapy dog. You can’t just be like I think my dog would help people so. You know I’m gonna make him a therapy dog. It’s kind of complicated. [00:34:50][40.6]

Nikki: [00:34:52] I think they have to also complete like a certain number of visits before they can register with a AKC. [00:34:59][6.9]

Regina: [00:35:00] I’m not totally sure. I have thought about once my dog retires putting him into a Therapy Dog program. I think he would get bored around the house. But I know we had this question internally about whether or not a dog can be a service dog and a therapy dog at the same time. There’s no rule against it, but I did talk to someone. This was before we had this internal conversation… I was talking to her about Buttons and she used to evaluate therapy dogs and she said that sometimes the dog can just get confused because they’re with their person that they’re supposed to help. But then, they’re supposed to leave their person to go and sit on somebody else’s lap or love on somebody else. And like if they were in their home like you know when I’m in my home my dog doesn’t do anything for me because I know my house. But out in public he would be totally confused. So I could see that. When he retires I think it’ll be OK, but right now, I couldn’t have him do that. He’d get very confused. [00:36:15][74.6]

Regina: [00:36:17] Now maybe some dogs can do that though I’m sure. I’m sure some can it probably depends on their tasks like a you know a dog that’s maybe a diabetic alert dog would still be able to alert to low blood sugar in that instance. So I don’t know. again all dogs are individual so it’s going to depend on the dog. [00:36:37][19.7]

Nikki: [00:36:40] And emotional support. Dogs are similar to therapy dogs because they also provide comfort but where therapy dogs are providing comfort to, not the individual owner of the dog, but to the people in the facilities who may need it at the time, emotional support dogs are there to provide comfort for to their owner. [00:37:06][25.7]

Regina: [00:37:07] Right. And they don’t require any kind of obedience training. I mean you could have a little hellion as your emotional support dog and that’s fine. There’s there’s no requirements there’s no training. Well no there is a requirement. The requirement is that your mental health professional says that you need a emotional support animal – because it doesn’t just have to be a dog – as part of your mental health treatment. [00:37:38][30.8]

Nikki: [00:37:40] And they don’t have the same public access as where they’re supposed to provide or provide support or provide comfort and therapeutic assistance in your home. So they’re not allowed to go in to public areas like service dogs but the one place they are allowed to go is airplane. [00:37:59][18.9]

Regina: [00:38:00] Yes. And there you can see how that makes sense because a lot of people have anxiety on a plane… Like me. [00:38:08][8.2]

Nikki: [00:38:12] But the problem there is that these emotional support dogs are not used to being in public places. [00:38:19][6.9]

Regina: [00:38:19] Right. [00:38:19][0.0]

Nikki: [00:38:20] That’s where we’re starting to see some issue arise with dogs having incidents on airplanes, whether it’s misbehaving because people expect them to behave similar to service dogs but that’s not really their job. [00:38:34][13.6]

Regina: [00:38:35] Right. Well and I think in general to like a lot of just the instances that happen in public not just on planes are from people who genuinely believe that their emotional support dog is the same as a service dog. And it’s really… they just don’t know. They’re probably not trying to be a dick, they just don’t know. And so their dog never had the public access training. They have no idea how their dog will handle the public. They don’t. And also because their dog never had the training, they never had the training to learn to understand their dog signs of anxiety and discomfort. So they don’t know to remove their dog from a situation before something bad happens. [00:39:19][43.9]

Nikki: [00:39:20] And even if you your dog is super in great public, it’s a well socialized dog, you bring it to dog park, in friends houses and this, that and the other thing… places you’re allowed to bring your dog as an emotional support dog …. with emotional support dogs and with service dogs unless you got a buddy with a private jet to practice that, you have no idea how your dog is going to act on an airplane. That’s a very different environment than any other environment you put your dog. [00:39:48][28.1]

Regina: [00:39:49] There is absolutely nothing like an airplane. But there are things you can do to see if your dog can handle the level of stress. Because for one thing airports are so busy and there’s so much, there’s so much. I mean there’s this thing yeah I hate traveling…. and you have to do it all the time. There’s so much noise. There are so many people and most dogs are not used to that. They’re not prepared for it. And you know for service dogs that have been trained, they work up to those situations. I did that with my dog. You know you you sort of upped the level of people, of crowds, of all the different things they need to deal with. And I know we do that with our dogs at AFF. You know we have them in all different kinds of things to check how they deal with it. And I do think that sometimes with some owner-trained dogs people don’t realize that they need to prep their dog for something because maybe they don’t fly a lot. Maybe they think they’ll never fly. So they haven’t prepped their dog. [00:41:11][82.0]

Nikki: [00:41:14] Are you talking about service dogs? [00:41:14][0.3]

Regina: [00:41:14] Yeah I because I think I think both are relevant here. I know there have been instances where a service dog has been aggressive and in an airport and then people say like oh well it must not have be a real service dog that person must not have a disability… But the person might. But again they didn’t recognize that the dog wasn’t prepared for that kind of environment. [00:41:37][22.8]

Nikki: [00:41:39] I kind of disagree with you with some of the instances though. I feel like a dog… We don’t know how your dog’s going to react on an airplane but I feel like a service dog is not going to like nip or bite it at anybody. You should know that your dog will never do that. If you’re going to have a dog. [00:41:58][19.4]

Regina: [00:41:59] Yes. Yes. I mean like I might have never been on a plane and I worry how he’s going to do but I’m not concerned that he’s going to bite somebody, even if somebody got in his face, even if a kid pulled out his face. I’m not concerned about that I’m more concerned about his mental health. You know, just about being in the air. I’m not concerned about him in an airport. Like I said he’s been at festivals with hundreds of people and does fine. But that’s the kind of thing you should do though if you want to take your dog to an airport and on a plane. Service dog or emotional support animal you need to find a way to test…. [00:42:42][43.8]

Nikki: [00:42:42] Or put them in a difficult situation. [00:42:46][3.2]

[00:42:46] Yeah. As far as emotional support animals go I know it’s hard because they’re not on public access, but there are a lot of dog friendly places that you can take your dog to to make sure that they’re prepared. Anybody who has an emotional support animal you love your animal and you want them to be happy and you don’t want them to be uncomfortable or stressed. So you have to think about your dog and how can you prepare your dog so that your dog is OK, soo your dog doesn’t hurt anyone else. I think a lot of that… I don’t know any of these dogs or any of these people who have had dogs that have been aggressive at an airport or on an airplane, but they’re high stress situations. So you may think “my dog is great, my dog is great with other people, my dog has never bitten anybody I’m not concerned.” But then you throw a dog into this high stress situation that they’re not prepared for. [00:43:48][61.5]

Regina: [00:43:48] And you know dogs can be unpredictable, so I would hesitate to label all those dogs is just in general aggressive dogs because I don’t know the dog. I also wasn’t in that situation so I don’t know. [00:44:01][12.7]

Nikki: [00:44:02] But yeah you need to be responsible owner you have a service dog or emotional support dog where you’re not putting your dog in a situation like that they can handle right and you need to be able to practice those situations beforehand. Well. That’s something you need to do as a responsible owner in general. [00:44:23][21.7]

Regina: [00:44:24] Yeah. And again I know it’s really hard if you have an emotional support animal because you may not really have the opportunity to take them to such a crowded place. And so I think you really have to do some research and try to find places like there are a lot of festivals and a lot of big pet festivals around where I live. And they can have like 100 people at them so there’s all kinds of stuff going on. You know you could take your dog to someplace like that to see how they do under those circumstances and. [00:44:57][33.2]

Nikki: [00:44:59] You know a lot of animal organizations and shelters have big you know like puppy palooza where you can bring your dog and have stuff like that. [00:45:10][11.9]

Regina: [00:45:11] And just to clarify just to make sure everybody knows this is not something that’s required. It’s not required by law that you do this to take your emotional support animal on a plane. This is just advice that we’re offering. So you can take it or leave it. [00:45:30][19.4]

Nikki: [00:45:32] But if you wanna continue to take your emotional support on a plane or your service dog on a plane. Highly recommended because of what’s happening with it. So Delta, as we mentioned earlier no longer allows dogs that they consider to be “pit bull” dogs ,that the flight attendant considers or the attendant at the gate considers to be a “pit bull,” you will not be allowed to get on their plane if you have your emotional support dog or service dog and they think it looks like a pit bull. Which is I mean it’s just like BSL if you heard talk about any sort of breed specific legislation, you know that these are not they’re not affecting the amount of times the dog is going to be aggressive on a plane. Like that’s not the way to affect change. [00:46:23][50.9]

Nikki: [00:46:26] But the reason it happened was because there was an incident on an airplane that there was multiple incidents on their airplanes where dogs were biting… And then at the worst one…. [00:46:37][10.3]

Regina: [00:46:38] I don’t think the worst one was a flight attendant. I think it was the person sitting next to the dog but that one was not even visually identified as a pit bull dog was visually identified as a lab. And then eventually that was dropped from all the press and it was just listed as 40 pound dog something pound dog. I don’t know. And you know I think from our perspective we’re grateful that they dropped the visual identification of the dog because that doesn’t matter. But it’s interesting that Delta defaulted to banning dogs labeled pit bull when the dog that did the worst bite was never ever labeled that. So talk about really giving into stereotypes and hysteria [00:47:21][43.2]

Nikki: [00:47:26] Well personally I think it’s awful that the Department of Transportation allows them to make that type discriminatory policy. [00:47:33][6.7]

Regina: [00:47:34] it’s against the regulations. They can’t they can only not allow a dog if the dog itself presents an imminent threat. So I mean there are lawsuits. You know Delta’s facing some lawsuits. [00:47:51][17.7]

Regina: [00:47:52] And again you know it really goes to show how little people care about people with disabilities, like the laws on the books and Delta is in violation. And yet they’re not getting fined. Nothing is happening to them. It’s like “oh well who cares about people with disabilities and accessibility.” [00:48:10][18.1]

Regina: [00:48:11] But anyway, that’s not this podcast [00:48:11][0.1]

Nikki: [00:48:20] There are problems with not having any training for emotional support dogs if you’re going to bring your emotional support dog into public life. So I think there’s also issues with those policies. So your emotional support dog. All it needs is a letter from a physicianto be an emotional support dog. But then if they’re allowed to be in public access areas like airplanes and airports. So like maybe the physician says that you need an emotional support dog and if you’re going to be flying you should probably have that dog with you. Then that dog probably should be required to have some sort of training ahead of time. Just not any thought of going into airports and on airplanes and causing these issues [00:49:13][52.8]

Regina: [00:49:14] Right. And you know I mean if you think about it, service dogs really are kind of on an honor system right. Because I can train my own dog. I did train my own dog and I don’t have to prove that to anyone in general. [00:49:31][16.5]

Nikki: [00:49:32] Although the ACA also requires certain behaviors in your dog. [00:49:36][3.4]

Regina: [00:49:36] Right. Exactly. Yeah but also if something were to happen, like if I were to encounter a serious discrimination and I wanted to sue someone – which is honestly more trouble than it’s worth – a judge could ask me to prove that he was trained. I would have to demonstrate that yes he was trained. So if you see a lot of people say, “well I’m going to sue over this,” then you think they don’t really know what they’re getting into. But emotional support dogs obviously like all you have to do is present that you’ve got a letter from your doctor. [00:50:18][42.3]

Nikki: [00:00:00] I think that’s something that should be more focused on than banning looks or breeds of dogs. [00:00:00][0.0]

Regina: [00:50:33] I don’t know what the what the answer is because I feel any dog that is going to have public access or just being public with you well behaved and yes like Delta says look you know your dog needs to be well behaved. But again people don’t understand the stress of being on a plane. You know I think the issue is with having emotional support animals having some kind of certification…. Again that’s sort of like the same with why there are no certifications for service dogs. It Is that it puts an undue burden on the person with disabilities. And again if you have an emotional support animal your doctor has or your mental health professional has decided that your mental illness is debilitating enough that you need an emotional support animal. So I mean it’s it’s such a difficult thing. I think it just comes down to personal responsibility and people realizing what they’re asking of their dog you know it’s just a lot of it comes down to. [00:51:47][73.9]

[00:51:47] So I think the maybe in a few weeks should do a deeper dive into Delta and talk a little bit of that more like in more depth about the ban at Delta. But I think for this podcast, I hope that we have helped people form a better understanding. [00:52:15][28.2]

Regina: [00:52:16] This is such a deep involved topic and you know I think probably at some point we because I know one of the early podcasts we did, we talked about service dog registry and I think that’s another topic to discuss too. But yeah and I also want to say that even though I am deep into the service dog community and I have a disability and I’m actually taking some courses on the ADA, I still may have made some mistakes in this podcast. So if I said something wrong, or if Nicky says something wrong tell us and we will issue a correction and all that. And also if you disagree with anything we said please tell us. This is a complicated topic and within the service dog community and people who have ESAs… Oh wait actually, before we wrap up, I want to point out when the topic of emotional support animals and service dogs on planes come up, the thing that people talk about most is that emotional support peacock. And that was over the top and so ridiculous. And you can’t tell me that that person didn’t know that that was inappropriate because they did and that person has fuck all to do with emotional support animals in general and certainly fuck all to do with service dogs. So let’s stop talking about it and using that as an argument because it just doesn’t work. [00:53:50][94.0]

Regina: [00:53:51] OK. So. What I was going to say though, is there’s a lot of disagreement and discussion about how all of this should be handled within the service dog community and within the disabled community. A lot of you may disagree with us but that’s just what it is because it’s complicated and emotional and I’ll stop rambling! [00:54:12][20.6]

Nikki: [00:54:23] Hopefully we went in a semi-straight line. I’m not sure if we were. All right well thanks for listening. This was a fun one! [00:54:48][24.4]

Regina: [00:54:50] Yeah it was nice. [00:54:50][0.8]

Nikki: [00:54:51] And also you can give us any topics that you want to hear. We do have a lot of topics that we need to cover and want to cover, but if there’s anything you haven’t heard that you want to hear us tackle just let us know. [00:54:51][0.0]


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