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Service Dogs & Emotional Support Animals

by Barry KuKes

Recently, an organization was looking for someone to bring a dog to visit with children at their campus. Both of my dogs, Bentley and Mini-Cooper, are Ambassador Dogs for the Halifax Humane Society, and we visit schools, senior centers, local events, etc., on a regular basis. Both dogs are very good with children.

The organization said the dogs needed to be certified ESA (emotional support animals) to be allowed at their facility. Neither of my dogs is certified ESA be-cause neither my wife nor I need an emotional support animal. I thought this was a strange requirement, so I decided I would try to explain what an ESA is to my contact at the organization. I researched my answer online and confirmed my assessment with many different sources.

According to (Na-tional Service Animal Registry), a service dog is specially trained to perform a function or job for an owner that has a physical, intellectual, or emotional disability. An emotional support animal serves as more of a companion for the owner and is their pet. An emotional support animal has no special training, and any animal can be certified as an ESA if the owner is willing to anywhere from $30 to $200, depending on the service offering the certification.

If a person needs an emotional support animal, the application process to receive a certification asks questions pertaining to the owner, not the animal. Questions like, “Are you depressed?” “Do you suffer from PTSD?” and so on.

Don’t misunderstand, I am sure many people have a need for an emotional support animal, but for an organization to require that visiting animals to their facilities be certified as ESA doesn’t make much sense since the animal is certified specifically for one individual, that is the owner of the animal in most cases. The animal is not certified to assist other people or children, and the certification is nothing more than a piece of paper.

I believe the requirement was established to protect the organization from liability issues, but in the case of an ESA, this would not be the case. One of my neighbors has a very mean and aggressive Chihuahua who is her emotional support animal. This dog is not good with other people and is aggressive toward children.

The organization should change the requirement to either a service dog that is professionally trained, or they should require the owner of the animal to carry additional liability insurance and add the organization to that policy via a rider. My older dog Bentley has visited hundreds of schools, attended many summer camps, and has never had any instance of aggression or misbehavior. I would be more than happy to add the organization to my homeowner’s insurance coverage.

I sent an e-mail to my contact at the organization explaining the difference between a service dog and an ESA and offered to add the organization to my insurance, but I didn’t receive a reply. I was just trying to help the organization, but it appears they have taken issue with my position. I hope they find someone who paid the $50 to have their animal certified as ESA. Hopefully, the animal is also good with kids.
In closing, if you have a pet and wish to have it certified as an ESA, visit www. or any of the other hundred companies offering instant certification online. If the process is easy and completed in an instant by anyone, then it has little value.

Service dog training, on the other hand, can cost upwards of $30,000 or more depending on the specific tasks the dog needs to perform, such as diabetes and seizure detection, a seeing guide dog for the vision impaired, a stabilization dog for people with balance issues, and more. The good news is that many animal shelter animals have become both service and ESA, so if you need either in your life, please adopt, don’t shop.