Therapy dogs are a wonderful resource for people struggling with psychological health issues such as depression and anxiety. The 50,000 trained therapy dogs throughout the world provide comfort to people and improve their quality of life.
For the most part, therapy dogs are entitled to the same legal protections as other house pets. As such, there are many places where therapy dogs may not be allowed without express permission. Therefore, it is important to be familiar with these place-specific guidelines regarding therapy dogs, so you’re never encountering conflicts with other business owners, landlords, and administrators.
Here’s what you need to know about traveling with a therapy dog if you decide to register your pet.
Can Therapy Dogs Go Anywhere?
While doctors, psychologists, or therapists, prescribe service dogs and emotional support animals to help their owners, therapy dogs are used by their owners to help others. For this reason, laws regarding animal access and pet ownership see therapy dogs differently than other assistance animals.
The following information pertains to therapy dog accessibility in various places. Specific laws may vary from state to state, but this should serve as a general guideline.
The Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, provides specific legal protections for assistance animals classified as service dogs and emotional support animals. These protections include the right to accompany their handlers to certain locations.
Service dogs are entitled to the most freedoms under this act because they work for owners with disabilities. Therefore, service dogs have the right to accompany their handlers wherever they need to go. This includes:
- School campuses
- Student housing
On the other hand, animals trained primarily to provide emotional support, comfort, or psychological benefits do not meet the criteria set by the ADA to be classified as service animals and entitled to fewer privileges.
This means that both emotional support animals and therapy dogs have more restrictions on where they are allowed to be. However, emotional support animals may be more likely to be permitted on a case by case basis since they are prescribed to individual patients and do receive more legal recognition than therapy dogs.
In the case of therapy dogs, they have no express legal protection at schools. This means that a person must ask permission to bring a therapy dog to school or to live in student housing in advance. It is at the school or university’s discretion whether or not to allow it.
Airports and Airplanes
In addition to the Americans With Disabilities Act, other laws have been passed to give broader access to service dogs and emotional support animals in certain spaces. One of these is the Air Carrier Access Act.
According to the Air Carrier Access Act, emotional support animals and service dogs are entitled to fly in an airplane cabin when accompanied by their handler. Handlers cannot legally be charged an extra fee to bring their animals.
While service dogs are always entitled to assist their handlers, emotional support animals normally require a certification letter from a licensed mental health professional. As such, it is always a best practice to call ahead when flying with a service animal.
Unfortunately, the above legal protections do not apply to therapy dogs. When flying on an airplane, a therapy dog would be treated by the airline the same as any other pet.
This means that they may not be permitted to fly in the plane’s cabin, and the owner will likely be charged an extra fee for flying with the dog.
When flying with a therapy dog, we recommend calling the airline ahead of time to find out their procedures and prepare a plan for flying with the dog in advance.
Service dogs and emotional support animals are both permitted to stay in hotels. However, once again, therapy dogs are not entitled to the same rights as other assistance animals.
For purposes of temporary accommodation, therapy dogs have no legal protections in a hotel or an Airbnb. It is at the discretion of the property owner whether or not to allow an animal to stay there.
When traveling with a therapy dog, we strongly recommend contacting the person in charge of your lodgings, either the hotel staff or the Airbnb property owner, in advance to get express permission to bring your dog.
Providing the therapy dog’s credentials or certification, as well as vouching for the dog’s good behavior, can be helpful when convincing property owners to let them stay.
However, since a therapy dog is not considered a service dog or emotional support animal under the Americans With Disabilities Act, it is not entitled to stay in a hotel or other form of temporary lodging. The property owner may legally refuse to permit it.
Therapy dogs have no specific rights that average house pets are not entitled to when occupying public spaces.
Any private business has the right to turn away an animal that is not a service dog.
However, public spaces tend to be more accessible for pets in general since they aren’t necessarily guarded by security or institutional policies. Every place must be considered on a case by case basis, and the animal should be treated as with any ordinary pet.
In certain states, laws prohibit animals from being present in establishments where food is prepared. This is primarily a food safety precaution. You should check the local laws in your region to see how this might affect your therapy dog.
For this reason, we recommend checking with any restaurants, cafes, or other food establishments to see if they are dog friendly before showing up with your therapy dog.
If you show up to a private business with your therapy dog unannounced, the proprietors may ask you if the dog is a service animal, and they are allowed to ask what sort of tasks it performs.
If they determine that your dog is not a service dog aiding with a physical disability, the owner of the establishment can legally ask you to leave.
There is another federal law, the Fair Housing Act, which must be taken into account when it comes to therapy dogs and housing.
According to the Fair Housing Act, landowners can legally deny access to both humans and animals to their property.
However, service dogs and emotional support animals are always entitled to housing, even on properties with a “no pets” policy.
This makes it illegal for a landlord to reject a tenant based on having either of these kinds of service animals.
This law, of course, does not apply to therapy dogs. Therapy dogs have no legal protections regarding housing and can be permitted or denied access to housing at the property owner’s discretion.
When renting a property for you and your therapy dog, be sure to discuss the landlord’s pet policy before signing the lease.
Therapy dogs can significantly improve their patients’ quality of life. However, unlike service dogs and emotional support animals, therapy dogs are not entitled to widespread accessibility.
To get absolute clarity about where your therapy dog is allowed, contact a real professional, such as an ESA Registration agency, for more information about registering your animal.