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A psychiatric service animal is individually trained to perform tasks that the owner cannot perform because of a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Psychiatric service animals, like all other service animals, assist their disabled handlers by performing these tasks. However, while the owner of an emotional support dog must also be disabled, the emotional support dog is not trained to perform tasks to mitigate the owner's disability.
Therapy animals are sometimes confused with psychiatric service animals or emotional support animals. However, therapy animals are something entirely different. A therapy animal is one that is trained, tested, registered, and insured to visit people in hospitals and nursing homes. A person with a therapy animal has no particular right under the ADA to take their animal anywhere pets are not permitted. If the owner wishes to visit a facility like a hospital or nursing home, they must first seek out and receive the permission of administrators at the facility they wish to visit.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which regulates and enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):
"The Department is proposing new regulatory text in § 36.104 to formalize its position on emotional support or comfort animals, which is that ''[a]nimals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or promote emotional wellbeing are not service animals.'' The Department wishes to underscore that the exclusion of emotional support animals from ADA coverage does not mean that persons with psychiatric, cognitive, or mental disabilities cannot use service animals. The Department proposes specific regulatory text in § 35.104 to make this clear: ''[t]he term service animal includes individually trained animals that do work or perform tasks for the benefit of individuals with disabilities, including psychiatric, cognitive, and mental disabilities.'' This language simply clarifies the Department's longstanding position."
The ADA gives the disabled owner of a service dog the right to be accompanied by his or her service dog to most places where the public are permitted, even if dogs are not generally allowed. However, the owner of an emotional support dog has no particular right to public access and must ask permission of the management to enter with an emotional support animal.
Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, a qualified person with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation in the form of a modification of rules against the keeping of pets in order to keep EITHER a service animal or an emotional support animal.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act, a qualified person with a disability may be accompanied in the cabin of an air craft by either a psychiatric service dog or an emotional support animal if they have the proper documentation from their doctor.