Lisa Wade MSW, RSW
There are three main categories of helping animals that have very different roles, skill sets and public access. These categories include service or assistance, therapy, and emotional support animals.
Service or Assistance Animals
In Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), service animals, which can include dogs and mini horses, are protected under the NL Service Animal Act (2012). In order for an individual to be provided the protections under the Act, that person must be “a person who has a degree of disability and is dependent upon a service animal” (Service Animal Act, 2012). Service animals are considered to be medical equipment and they are required to be specifically trained to assist their handler with their specific disability (Service Animal Act, 2012). In NL, service animals are not required to be certified or registered; therefore, the handler or disabled person is not required to carry papers, identification cards, etc. to prove that the animal is a legitimate service animal. If it is not readily apparent that the animal’s assistance is related to the handlers’ disability, a medical note confirming the person requires the service animal is required (Service Animal Act, 2012). As a social worker, you could be requested by a client to write a note confirming the client’s need for a service animal. Ensminger and Thomas (2013) advise that the social worker request the client provide proof that the animal received specific training that will assist with their disability prior to providing any written documentation.
Service animals have access to all public spaces where their handler or person is permitted; this includes restaurants, shopping malls, offices, etc., as well as transportation services such as taxi, bus and aircraft. While service animals are also permitted to live with their person in “no pet” housing, the impact of that specific animal on other tenants must be considered by the landlord (Human Rights Commission, 2015).
Therapy animals are pets that have been evaluated on their ability to safely interact with a wide range of populations, and their handlers are trained in the best practices to ensure effective interactions that support animal welfare (Pet Partners, 2020). These domesticated animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, or rabbits, can provide physical, psychological, and emotional benefits to those they interact with. Therapy animals and their handlers may be a part of a volunteer team visiting hospitals, long term care facilities or schools. Therapy animal handlers may also be practitioners who engage in animal assisted therapy in a professional setting. A therapy animal team has no legal rights in NL and no special rights of access, except in those facilities where they are welcomed.
Emotional Support Animals
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a companion animal or pet that a medical professional has determined greatly benefits an individual with a mental or emotional disability (Leslie, 2017). These animals, which can include dogs, cats, birds, lizards, etc., are not trained for specific commands to assist their owner, nor are they required to be evaluated on their ability to safely interact with a wide range of populations. An ESAs primary function is to provide emotional support through companionship.
ESAs are not permitted in restaurants, shopping malls, or office spaces. ESAs public access is limited to transportation; specifically, airline carriers such as Air Canada and West Jet. As a social worker, you could be requested by a client to write a note confirming the clients need for an ESA on a flight with a specific aircraft carrier. Ensminger and Thomas (2013) advise that the social worker request the client provide proof that the animal is either trained in basic obedience, or has been assessed by a veterinarian or dog trainer to ensure the animal can safely interact with a wide range of populations and environments.
Like a service animal, ESAs can be permitted to live with their person in “no pet” housing, however; the impact of that animal on other tenants must be considered by the landlord (Human Rights Commission, 2015). Therefore, a landlord may be unable to accommodate or continue to accommodate either a service animal or an ESA if the specific animal causes issues for other tenants.
Ensminger. J. & Thomas. J. (2013). Writing Letters to Help Patients with Service and Support Animals. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 13:2, 92-115. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15228932.2013.76573
Human Rights Commission. (2015). Guidelines regarding the use of service animals. https://thinkhumanrights.ca/education-and-resources/guidelines/guidelines-regarding-the-use-of-service-animals/
Leslie, A. (2017). Therapy animals and the people they serve. [PowerPoint slides]. https://canvas.du.edu/courses/47922/pages/week-2-readings?module_item_id=635641
Pet Partners. (2020). Terminology. https://petpartners.org/learn/terminology/
Service Animal Act: An Act to ensure access for service animals used by persons with disabilities (2012). https://www.assembly.nl.ca/legislation/sr/statutes/s13-02.htm