Disability: According to the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act (ADA), a disability is defined as a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual, and has been recorded, regarded as so, or diagnosed (42 U.S. Code § 12102). According the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 people have a disability, with 1 in 10 having a severe disability. A chronic illness can be considered a disability if it’s a long-term or life-long condition that can be controlled but not cured. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, over 100 million people in the U.S. have a chronic illness, with 94% of conditions being illnesses that are invisible.

Service Dog: A service dog, also referred to as an assistance dog, is trained with skilled tasks and used as a medical necessity for an individual with a diagnosed disability. Service dogs help their handler’s to improve limitations and challenges, enhance health, and increase their independence to happily live in the community and enjoy their residence. A service dog is defined by federal law as, “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual´s disability” (US Department of Justice, 28 CFR § 36.104).

Under the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act, service dogs have access to accompany their handler anywhere that the general public is permitted, including businesses that prepare or serve food. Laws prohibit businesses and residential settings from limiting access to individuals who use or house service dogs. However, businesses have the right to ask: 1) Is this a service dog? and 2) What tasks does the dog perform? Businesses may not ask what the individual’s disability is, require identification or certification for the dog, charge additional fees because of the dog, refuse entry or segregate the person. A service dog may be required to leave a premises if they are out of control and the handler does not take direct action or if they are a direct threat to others. Violators of these rights can be required to pay damages and penalties. Additional laws pertaining to service dog requirements that should be taken into consideration include individual state laws, the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.

Therapy Animal: A therapy animal is an animal that is trained, tested, certified and registered with its handler. Therapy animals and their handlers provide comfort to people in need in various settings, such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, retirement and assisted living homes, schools, libraries and disaster areas. Therapy dogs do not have legal rights to accompany their handlers in public areas where “no pet” polices are enforced. However, since therapy dogs provide wonderful companionship and have been proven to increase healing and wellbeing, facilities may invite, limit or prohibit therapy dog access. Usually, handlers contact a desired volunteer location to get visitation permission and complete any requirements from the establishment, before any visitations occur.

Pet: Owning a pet can provide positive health and emotional benefits, as pets can offer great companionship. Emotional support or companion animals are animals that are not trained to perform tasks related to the handler’s disability; therefore, they have the same legal definition as pets. Pets do not have legal rights to accompany their handlers in public areas where “no pet” polices are enforced.