Dear Albert: What It Means to Be A Therapy Dog

Dear Albert, My person is training me to be a therapy dog. Does this mean she can take me everywhere with her (like to the store and the movies)?

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Dear fellow Canine,

I am a retired therapy dog; I volunteered with my person for 7 years! When you are registered as a therapy dog you do not have public access, meaning you are not  to go everywhere with your person. You have no special rights and generally are only allowed to go where dogs are allowed. With permission, you are able to go to assisted living homes, schools, libraries and other facilities requesting a registered therapy dog. To be registered as a therapy dog you must be one year old, healthy, well trained (you will need to pass a screening/evaluation) and enjoy meeting and greeting people of all ages and capabilities.

An emotional support dog provides support to a person who has a mental health disability and you must be in possession of a letter from your provider, it is like your licensed mental health provider has “prescribed” a dog for your emotional well-being. Like a therapy dog, an emotional support dog does not have any special rights and does not have public access meaning it can only go where dogs are generally allowed. However, there are special circumstances where an emotional support dog is allowed and that is a person with an emotional support dog may keep their dog in housing with a “no pets” policy but the dog must be well behaved and well cared for. An emotional support dog may also travel with its person on an airplane although it is wise to consult with the airlines before making your reservation.

A service dog performs a task(s) to assist a person with a disability and a service dog does have public access rights and its person has the right to be accompanied by their service dog anywhere the general public is allowed. There are different types of service dogs and are also known as assistance dogs meaning they provide a service and assist their person relative to their person’s disability e.g., guide dog, mobility dog, medical alert dog, hearing dog, and psychiatric service dog. Service dogs are highly trained to perform the task or tasks required by their person and they are well behaved in public.

If a business owner is unsure whether the dog is a service dog, you can ask 2 questions of the person and they are:

  1. Is your service dog required because of a disability?
  2. What task or work has your dog been trained to perform?

I would highly recommend learning more about the standards for service/assistance dogs by going to Assistance Dog International’s website

To find out more about the service dog law, go to American with Disabilities Act (ADA) website


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Albert, Retired Pet Connections Therapy Dog

Albert, a retired therapy dog, has been an instrumental part of the Pet Connections program at Ontario ARC since its inception in 2011.  Together with his owner, Animal Assisted Activity and Therapy Trainer, Gail Furst, he helped pave the way for the success and expansion of Pet Connections. His intuitive nature has even won him the nickname, “St. Albert.” Now at age 8, Albert is in retirement, but he still offers helpful advice from time to time to those who ask!