Service, Therapy, and Emotional Support Animals

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

My husband and I own a restaurant. We put up a sign saying that Service Dogs are allowed because the government’s ADA (American with Disabilities Act) says we have to allow them.

However, we’ve had several people come in with dogs that bark and beg, while other dogs seem to be legitimate – we never even notice the ones who sit quietly by their owner’s feet. 

One woman came in with a cat and said it’s a Therapy Cat for her PTSD. We said we’re sorry, but only Service Dogs are allowed to come in. She went wild and caused a scene. She shoved us a note, from her psychiatrist, saying her cat is an “Emotional Service Animal” and she’s allowed to have it with her. But the cat wouldn’t stay with the customer.

Other restaurant owners give us conflicting advice.


No Therapy Animals Welcome

Dear Restaurateur,

A problem in our culture is people demanding their rights, even when they’re wrong. We’re sorry you’ve had to deal with this problem. You have rights, also.

You’ve done the best you can. You posted the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990. You have provided civility, and you allow Service Dogs – who are trained, which is the key to accountability.

You can call the police the next time anyone behaves with indecency and won’t be civil. Our definition of civility is: to be courteous, caring, and considerate. You are the one who determines if the animal is trained or not.

Service Dog (or animal):  A service dog is trained.

A Service Dog helps individuals perform tasks they cannot do for themselves because of a disability, according to the ADA, which governs the use of Service Dogs in public places. The dog must meet the federal definition: it must do a job the owner can’t perform themselves. A Service Dog (or animal with a similar temperament, and to our knowledge, it has never been a cat) may be trained to perform jobs that assist individuals with disabilities to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and lessen their effects.

Emotional Support Animals (ESA) and Comfort Animals: Not trained.

While Emotional Support Animals and Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan, their ownersdo not have the same rights as handlers of Service Dogs under Title II and III of the federal ADA. A doctor may certify an ESA, but that’s not the same as a Service Dog.

Therapy dogs are usually instructed for groups of individuals, such as the elderly, and kids with disabilities.

Only well-trained animals and well-trained people should be allowed in public.


Rhonda and Dr. Cheri

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