Therapy Animals have more training than emotional support animals but are typically trained to interact with multiple people. Deployed as stress-relievers, they often are seen in hospitals, airports, and college campuses. Usually, these animals are used in “animal-assisted therapy” in nursing homes and help build rapport between a therapist and a child. Their public access to these agreements is based on prior agreements made between the owner and the organization/facility and are not guaranteed access to any facility. Depending on the state, therapy animals only qualify to dogs or which include but are not limited to, cats, guinea pigs, lizards, rabbits.

What does the law state about therapy animals?

According to the Air Carrier Access Act, therapy animals are used as an animal-assisted intervention in which there is a goal-directed intervention where the animal must meet specific requirements as part of the treatment process.” Animal-assisted therapy can be provided in a variety of settings and may be group or individual in nature. While this is the only official term-usage for therapy animals, other definitions exist that can add additional regulations and complications to therapy animals.

Due to the variances in the definition of the term “therapy animal,” the rights of your therapy animal can vary from state to state. Because states have their regulations to follow, many have their definitions in regards to therapy animals and have a tendency to correlate the term “therapy animal” with other terms, such as “assistance animal,” “emotional support animal,” and “service animal.” In these cases, it is best to read up on your state legislation to see what definitions they use for therapy animals and whether or not your animal qualifies as such.

Differences between Therapy Pets and Emotional Support Animals

Therapy animals can help people that suffer from trauma by providing love and support, but do not have special access rights. They must be invited into hospitals, schools, etc. in order to provide their healing presence. Emotional support animals on the other hand are “prescribed” to individuals in need of comfort and support for their mental health issues. Emotional support animals have access rights under the Fair Housing Act for housing and the Air Carrier Access Act for air travel situations and cannot be charged additional pet rent or pet fees. In order to qualify for an emotional support animal, you must have an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. You can talk to your current LMHP or connect with one online.

How can I qualify my pet as a therapy animal?

Therapy animals can provide relief for larger groups but do not have access rights that emotional support animals have.

Therapy animals can provide relief for larger groups but do not have access rights that emotional support animals have.

If you know your pet can qualify as a therapy animal, the next step is choosing a qualified organization that trains and certifies therapy animals. While there are no national registrations for therapy animals, organizations such as Pet Partners and  Service Dog Certifications are examples of organizations that can be used to train, certify, and/or register your animals. According to the HuffingtonPost, each organization will have their qualifications for their animals and pet owners. In cases of fraudulence, it is essential to pay attention to what organization you use in order to protect you and your soon-to-be therapy animal. The AKC, for instance, has a list of pet therapy organizations that are certified and approved of that you can use as a resource.

For instance, Pet Partners has their own specific requirements for animals before the animals can be accepted into their program. Such requirements include:

  • Are at least one year old, or six months old for rabbits, guinea pigs, and rats, at the time of evaluation
  • Live in the owner’s home for at least six months, and must live in the owner’s house for one year for birds.
  • Must be house trained
  • Have the current vaccination for rabies. Rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, and birds are exempt from this requirement.
  • May not be fed a raw meat diet.
  • Have no history of aggression or seriously injuring either people or other animals, including those trained in aggressive behaviors for a show/performance.
  • Demonstrate good basic obedience skills, such as sit, roll over, stay, and come here.
  • Be open and friendly with strangers and not just tolerant
  • Be comfortable wearing the Pet Partners’ logo equipment.

What happens after you register your team and certify you and your pet?

From there, you, your team, and your pet will be able to apply to an approved assisted animal-assisted program. Animal-assisted interventions are endorsed by healthcare providers as cost-effective interventions for specific patient populations in rehabilitative care facilities. Forms of animal-assisted interventions include Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), animal-assisted education (AAE) and animal-assisted activities (AAA). The animal can be part of a volunteer therapy team working under a professional or an animal that belongs to the expert. Afterward, you’ll be able to work with the facility/organization that you wish to work with and thus apply for their programs. However, as a therapy animal, the registration does not always assure rights into the facility, as only service dogs under the ADA can have public access under federal law.