Animals play important roles assisting people with disabilities and as part of therapeutic activities. Most people are aware of the role of service animals, such as guide dogs, but may be less familiar with other types of assistance and therapy animals---including why, where and how they may be granted access to public spaces and how their roles may impact what is needed for their veterinary care.
New resources on the AVMA's website help clarify the different roles of service, assistance, and therapy animals, including those used for emotional support. Veterinarians have an important role in supporting the appropriate use of these animals, including exploring sensible approaches that allow animals appropriate access to public places.
A new web page, Service, Emotional Support and Therapy Animals, provides an overview of the various roles and legal protections afforded to four categories of service and support animals: assistance animals, service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. It connects you to AVMA policies related to these animals, and provides a contact point for AVMA members to provide information or suggestions to the Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions, which advises the AVMA Board of Directors on these issues.
For those looking for more detail, including anyone with an interest in or concerns about service animal fraud, there also is a new peer-reviewed white paper, Assistance Animals: Rights of Access and the Problem of Fraud. This paper explains some of the complexities of the fraud issue, and suggests strategies that might be used to simultaneously promote the appropriate use of assistance animals and discourage fraudulent activity.
Emotional support animals, which are a relatively new legal category, also will be the topic of a continuing education session at the 2017 AVMA Convention in July. Presented by members of the Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions, “Emotional Support Animals: Your Role as a Veterinarian” will explore how veterinarians can provide support and services for clients with emotional support animals, using real examples taken from the experiences of AVMA members.
Additionally, the AVMA House of Delegates will consider a proposed new policy on emotional support animals during its July meeting.