A Basic Explanation Of Service & Emotional Support Dogs (and the difference between the two)
A brief background on dogs in Bozeman
Before I begin, I will say that this article is a bit left field for us, but I have had so many conversations about it that I felt it necessary to read into and go over on this blog. I would assume that this is a frequent discussion in most areas with a crazy renting market, but Bozeman seems to be at a whole other level. I’ll start by stating that Bozeman has a population of around 46,000 people (This was based on a 2015 census, so the number is likely higher), and 22,000 dogs according to Heart Of The Valley. Yes, twenty-two THOUSAND dogs. That means that there is 1 dog for every 2 people (give or take). Additionally, Dog Fancy Magazine recently declared Bozeman the #2 most dog-friendly city in the US-based primarily on the adoption rate. 90% of dogs admitted to Heart Of The Valley are adopted within the first TWO weeks of their stay! In Short, Bozeman loves their dogs. Add to this information to the renting market in Bozeman, and you get A LOT of issues with individuals and dogs who either can’t find a place to rent or get kicked out because most properties have strict rules about pets. This is the most common way I hear about making a dog a “service dog” or “emotional support dog”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard: “I’m just going to make my dog a service dog so that I can still rent wherever I want.” Followed by: "I am going to make my dog a service dog so that I can bring them on the airplane with me." The list goes on and on, and while neither of these statements is entirely false, we feel there is a need to set the record straight on the clear cut difference between a service animal and an emotional support dog.
I will start by stating that service dogs and emotional support dogs are two VERY different things. A service dog is one that has gone through thorough training to provide aid to an individual with a disability. A few examples would be a blind person who uses a guide dog to navigate through their everyday environments, a person with a psychiatric disability like autism who uses a dog to help them stay calm or remind them to take medication, or a person with mobility issues who has a dog help them get up or roll them over if they have fallen. Service dogs might even be trained to indicate that their owner is about to have a seizure (and even lessen the risk of injury by getting on the person's chest), or that their blood sugar is too low. In short, a service dog is actually trained to perform specific tasks and provide aid to its owner when they need it. The list of tasks service dogs can perform is in the hundreds or thousands, and I found it truly inspiring to learn about while I got lost in all of the stories online.
Emotional Support Dogs
Enter emotional support dogs. While these dogs still aid individuals with disabilities, they are not necessarily trained to do so. A good example of an emotional support dog would be one that accompanies an individual in public because they have intense anxiety, and that dog keeps them calm.
Service vs emotional support dogs
Now that we have a high-level summary of what the two types of support dogs are (there are also therapy dogs, but they very relevant to this discussion), let's go over the main difference between the two and the limitations of an emotional support dog.
-Yes, emotional support dogs (and service dogs) are protected under the fair housing act (FHA). This means that if you do have an emotional support dog or service dog, your landlord cannot kick you out or deny you for that specific reason.
-Both emotional support dogs and service dogs are allowed on airplanes. there are a few nuances in this rule, so if you'd like to learn more check out this article.
-Emotional support dogs are NOT allowed in all public areas (restaurants, movie theaters, stores, etc.). If a business has a "no pet" policy, an emotional support dog is not allowed in.
Businesses with no-pet policies
If you work at or own a business like a restaurant that has a no-pet policy and are confused with what to say or do when someone comes in with a dog, I understand. I used to work at restaurants and was sometimes confused or uncomfortable because I didn't know what to ask or do if there was no indication that it was a service animal (which is especially awful if the dog is being unruly and disturbing other patrons). So, with that being said, here is what you are legally allowed to ask someone who walks into your business with a dog, and you aren't sure if it is a service animal:
-Is the animal required because of a disability?
-What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
And, to answer a lot of people's questions, an establishment is NOT allowed to ask for verification or proof that the dog is in fact a service animal.
So, now we know
All in all, if you have a disability where you think an emotional support dog would be beneficial to the quality of your life, please do it! While doing some research on this subject I read tons of incredible stories about how service and emotional support dogs have changed lives for the better. For those of you who want to register your dog because it will allow you to travel with it and live in apartments that have no pet policies, well you can, but it is not a very honest thing to do. Service dogs and emotional support dogs play a VERY important role to their owners, and registering your dog as one of them or throwing a red vest on to reap the benefits is taking advantage of the system, and gives the real support dogs a bad image.
One final note
If you are in a public area and come across a service animal, please be mindful that they are working and are not in public to be socializing, so do not pet them or surround them. It can be disruptive and anxiety-inducing for the dog and owner. If you want to learn more than the summary we just provided here is one article that I found very useful.