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Assistance Dog Care

What is an assistance animal?

Animals can play very important roles in assisting people with disabilities and as part of therapeutic activities. Service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals are all different types of assistance animals. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly common for some people to misrepresent their animals as assistance animals in order to bring them to places where pets are not allowed, to avoid fees, or out of a misunderstanding of the animal's role.


Veterinarians are not responsible for designating an animal as an assistance animal or assigning an animal to one of the assistance categories. At Lake Ontario Veterinary Clinic, we have the important role of providing appropriate care and advice consistent with each assistance animal's individual duties. By correctly identifying the duties of your assistance animal, we can better address their specific health needs. 

A yellow lab in a vest looks up at it's handler in a wheelchair
An older man in a wheel chair reaches down to pet a golden retriever therapy dog while talking to its handler

Is my pet an assistance animal?

The first step in understanding if your pet qualifies as an assistance animal is to understand the three main categories of assistance animals. The following classifications have been provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in accordance with the policies of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


Service animals:

These animals are usually dogs who assist an individual with a physical or psychiatric disability as defined by the ADA. These animals are Individually trained to perform specific tasks to assist the person with a disability in the activities of normal living. Most of these animals are trained through a service animal agency. These animals are allowed to accompany the owner at all times when they can be safely and reasonably accommodated. These animals are recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Act, and Air Carrier Access Act.

Emotional support animals

These can be animals of any species whose use is supported in writing by a qualified physician or mental health professional based upon a phycological disability-related need. While there are no specific training, licensing or certification requirements, their owners are responsible for ensuring their proper care and behavior in public settings. These animals do not have the right to accompany their owners in settings where pets are not allowed, except where authorized by the owner of the facility and are not recognized as service animals when traveling on an airline.

Therapy animals

These can be animals of any species who participate in a range of animal-assisted therapeutic activities such as visits to schools, hospitals or nursing homes. These animals are typically registered with or certified by an animal-assisted intervention organization after successful training, behavioral, and veterinary evaluation though there are some situations where this may not be required. These animals may access facilities where pets are prohibited at the discretion of management as they have no federally protected right to access and they are not recognized by federal law.

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