top of page

DISCLAIMER: This is not LEGAL advice. Please do your own research.  


YES!--Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are great THERAPY!!

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Therapy dog

YES! They are different!!




What is the difference between

"Emotional Support Animal" and

"Service Dog"?

 EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL = is used for EMOTIONAL therapy. The main purpose is to provide comfort and security. They are particularly useful for someone who requires emotional support due to a mental health issue or following a traumatic event.  EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS help with: loneliness, depression, anxiety, phobias, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning. 

ESAs are assigned to ONE handler. ESA's are protected legally with regards to housing. They are sometimes allowed to accompany the handler in social and public places.

ESA dogs do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.

******EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS are protected under the fair housing act and both the animal and handler must be allowed (even if no pets allowed). Furthermore, it prevents landlords and rental companies from being able to charge pet fees or deposits.********

A THERAPY ANIMAL = is (an ESA) used in a group or clinical setting.

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS works for one person.

 THERAPY DOG works for groups.  Therapy animals are often seen in nursing homes or libraries.

A SERVICE DOG = A service animal is a dog that is trained to do work (perform a task) for the benefit of a person with a disability The disability can be: physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. SERVICE DOGS must be trained to work a specific task for a specific disablity (ie. blind person = seeing eye dog).  Service animals are covered under the ADA (American Disablity Act).  There are Federal Laws that protect the use of service animals. 

*****Legally, SERVICE DOGS enjoy more extensive privileges & protections than an ESA. In addition to housing, SERVICE DOGS are protected when it comes to public access and travel under ADA regulations.*****


 There are TWO KEY differences:

  1. What you are legally allowed TO DO (by protection of laws) with your dog is different.

  2. The requirement of a SERVICE DOG to perform a specific task (related to the disability). There is no such requirement for ESA (only required to be a companion).

What are the benefits from an (ESA)


  • Avoid Housing deposits (fair housing act)

  • Waive hotel pet fees (fair housing act)

  • Stay in Airbnbs (fair housing act)

  • Help keep your pet in your home (in case NO PET policies)

  • Help spread awareness about mental health

  • Be able to bring your best friend wherever you go (with limitations)

  • Airlines differ on their policies with EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS (air-carrier access act).

What do I need to do to make my dog an ESA?

~You need a LETTER (is actually a prescription)~

  1. Your dog will NOT NEED any special training in order to become an emotional support dog. 

  2. An EMOTIONAL SUPPORT LETTER is an official document (basically a prescription) written by a mental health professional, physician, psychiatrist, or any other health professional familiar with your condition.

  3. You can ask for the letter (prescription) from your personal therapist or you can use an online service. 

  4. There is NO NEED to register your EMOTIONAL SUPPORT animal in a database or get them a special license.

  5. The letter (prescription) is all you need.


What are the benefits of a


SERVICE DOGS are protected by ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) laws and have special rights to be allowed where other animals aren’t allowed.

All benefits of an ESA are available and additionally: Airlines, Public Transportation, and public places.

  • TRAVELING & TRANSPORTATION: You should never be discriminated against for having a service animal, which means you are permitted on buses, trains, taxis, airlines, etc. These entities must allow handlers and their service animals to board their vehicles and access services without prejudice.  (see air carrier access act)

  • HOUSING (including hotels): if you have a registered service animal, you do NOT PAY FEES for pet accomodation. NO PET policies do not apply. (see fair housing act)

  • EMPLOYMENT: if you have a registered service animal, your employer must allow you to bring your animal to work. Furthermore, in Texas, state employees are also allowed to take up to 10 days of PAID to attend a training program for acquiring a service dog.

  • EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS: if the student is an individual with a disability, they have the right to be accompanied by the service animal and is allowed to have the service animal at school and in the classroom. 

  • If you have a Service Animal, ANY ESTABLISHMENT (restaurants, services, sales, theatres, stadiums, libraries, museums, zoos, parks, gyms, bowling alley, etc) that refuses entry to you and your SA can be fined up to $300 and asked to do community service. The only exceptions are where restrictions may be in place is if the animal poses a threat or risk to others.

What should I do to make my dog a SERVICE ANIMAL?

~There are 2 requirements~

  1. You must have a disability (physical or psychiatric). The term “disability” is a legally defined term under federal disabilities act and includes physical conditions (ie. visual, hearing, speech impairment, mobility issues) and mental health conditions (depression, anxiety, intellectual/developments disability, special needs or devices, mental disablity, or PTSD).

    •  To qualify for a service animal, you need written documentation from your healthcare provider that you have and are being treated for an emotional or psychiatric disorder or physical disability and require the assistance of an animal....(THIS IS THE EASY PART!)

  2. Your SERVICE ANIMAL'S work/task performed must be directly related to the disability. (THIS IS THE HARD PART!)

    • A doctor 's note stating the disability (need for an animal) does not change your pet into a trained service animal 

    • Providing companionship, calming anxiety, or providing a sense of safety merely by its presence are not legal definitions of “tasks.”

    • Your Service Animal is NOT REQUIRED to be trained by a specific trainer.  However, training a service dog yourself can be difficult, and you will likely need help.​

    • ​SOME EXAMPLES of tasks ("guide dog" for blind)

      • diabetic alert dogs, hearing dogs, opening doors, turning on lights, providing safety checks or room searches for persons wih PTSD, setting off alarms, and in some cases alerting a person to potentially-deadly blood sugar levels, detect the onset of psychiatric episodes, reminding the handler to take medicine, interrupting self-mutilation by persons with dissociative identity disorders, and keeping disoriented individuals from danger.

      • SIGNAL or SOCIAL SIGNAL is a dog trained to assist a person with autism. The dog alerts the handler to distracting repetitive movements common among those with autism, allowing the person to stop the movement (e.g., hand flapping).

      • SEIZURE RESPONSE is a dog trained to assist a person with a seizure disorder. How the dog serves the person depends on the person’s needs. The dog may stand guard over the person during a seizure. The dog may go for help. Some dogs can even predict a seizure and warn the person in advance to sit down or move to a safe place!


  1. Your SERVICE ANIMAL should be well-behaved, non-aggressive, and cannot be a nuisance (uncontrolled barking, jumping on other people, or running away from the handler) are unacceptable behaviors. IF your dog behaves as such, you can be asked to leave and the federal and state protections will do nothing to protect your rights. The ADA requires the animal to be under the control of the handler at all times.

  2. A public accommodation or facility is not allowed to ask for documentation or proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal.

  3. Staff at a venue may only ask these 2 questions:

    1.  Is the animal required because of a disability? 

    2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

  4. To have a "service dog" you must have:

    1. eligible disability 

    2. the service dog must be trained to perform a job/task related to your specific condition

  5. · The animal must be housebroken.

  6. · The animal should be vaccinated in accordance with state and local laws.



~Legal Stuff you Need To Know~

The ADA (American Disablity Act) regulates dogs related to disablities. Federal ADA laws protect "service dogs" more than ESA.  EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS may not be protected under the ADA, depending on your state and what you are trying to do. LEGALLY, the amount of legal protection is greater for a "SERVICE ANIMAL" and less for an EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL. 

TEXAS has defined criteria for "service animal" as: a helper or aid for a person who is physically,  emotionally, or mentally disabled. Look up your states criteria.

Helpful Information

  • ADA defines "disability" very broadly and does not limit the type of disability for which a "service animal" can be used.

  • There is a great flexibility with respect to the nature and severity of a person's physical, mental, or emotional issue (disability).

  • If you have any condition that makes it difficult to perform or limits an important life actifity (that other people can perform easily), you are qualified.

  • You are NOT required to have a doctor diagnoses.

  • The disability might only be a problem during certain times, like dizziness, low blood sugar, a seizure, panic attacks, stress or depression, asthma, blindness, deafness, deabetic, autism, PTSD, social phobia, to name a few examples.

  • The ADA rules (for SERVICE DOGS) staff at a venue may only ask 2 questions:

    •  Is the animal required because of a disability? 

    • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

  • To have a "service dog" you must have:

    • eligible disability 

    • the service dog must be trained to perform a job/task related to your specific condition


For additional information about SERVICE DOGS:


Southwest ADA Center at ILRU
TIRR Memorial Hermann Research Center
1333 Moursund St.
Houston, Texas 77030
713.520.0232 (voice/TTY)
800.949.4232 (voice/TTY) is external)

bottom of page