Service animals help people with disabilities lead a more independent life

People often confuse a service animal with an emotional support animal but there are key differences
Service dogs can alert their handler to a medical emergency.
Service dogs can alert their handler to a medical emergency.(Cyle Clark)
Published: Feb. 10, 2023 at 12:49 PM MST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - Living with a disability is hard, but there are tools that can increase independence. One of the biggest tools: a service animal.

But not all animals preform tasks, some just offer comfort.

Service animals are trained to help people who struggle with either physical or mental disabilities. An emotional support animal, on the other hand, is a little different.

Service animals are typically dogs who are trained for between 8 months and 2 years to work with a specific handler in their daily lives.

Service dogs can alert a person to a variety of medical issues such as diabetic shock, epilepsy, or an episode of PTSD or anxiety.

“A service dog can really do so much for an individual. What it comes down to is service dogs is a really, truly medical device for the specific handler. So, it depends on their individual medical condition,” said Tony Russell, executive director of South Dakota Service Dogs.

A key difference between service animals and emotional support animals, or ESAs, is that the latter do not have to be trained and therefore do not have the same rights as service animals.

Service dogs are allowed to stay with their handler everywhere, even in places that don’t allow pets, which is something emotional support animals can not do.

ESAs do not perform tasks related to a person’s disability. This means people with ESAs can be asked to leave businesses or restaurants if their animals are out of control or not housebroken.

This is a key difference between ESAs and service animals as the training received lessens the possibility of the dog having behavioral issues when out in public.

“There’s less training,” Russell added. “There’s less training standards and some handlers take advantage of that, and that makes it more challenging on the handlers that really have medical disabilities and need their dogs as a medical alert device in public with them.”

People with service dogs are not required to provide proof that their animal has been trained. But they can be asked about the specific tasks the service dog is trained to perform.

To qualify for a service dog, a person must have a recommendation from a medical professional proving the individual has a disability.