This is a tricky question that needs clarification, but the answer may surprise you. Service animals are generally those that help a person lead a relatively normal life. As a case in point, dogs have been used for decades to help legally blind people get from place to place much more easily. They are used as the seeing eyes of the person, to warn them of such things as oncoming traffic, places where and where not to step, and how to navigate down sidewalks. When taken in that real world context, you can understand exactly what a service animal is all about.
Legal Service Animals
The U.S. Department of Justice has released the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA, and here is what it specifically says about service animals.
- Beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA.
- A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
- Generally, title II and title III entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.
“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”
As you can see, from a plainly legal point of view, only dogs are considered as service animals by the U.S. government, and only dogs are allowed to be with someone with a disability, in public places wherever they go.
The Grey Area
The grey area with service animals is in the statement above that says, “Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.” So, if someone needs a dog for comfort, it is not classified as a service animal and it is not allowed to accompany them in public places or to live in housing that does not accept pets.
However, there is a catch to that, and here it is. A dog can get an Emotional Support Animal certification, or ESA, and this needs to be signed off by a doctor, a therapist or other qualified medical personnel. Having an ESA certification allows you to take your dog in public places and even get housing that normally doesn’t allow dogs. Essentially, an ESA certification turns virtually any dog into a service animal, as long as a doctor prescribes that it is needed for a pertinent medical situation.
Okay, so what about Cats?
This grey area about service animals and ESA certification also works with cats too. If you have a cat and it is deemed necessary for your mental health and emotional support, a cat can become a legal service animal. Granted, you will have to actually get ESA certification for your kitty friend, but if there is a bona fide reason for that type of emotional support, a doctor can prescribe that your furry 4 legged buddy can be with you virtually all the time.
Sometimes a little knowledge goes a long way, and if you need your cat to be with your service animal for medical reasons, the answer is yes.
Mary Nielsen founded FelineLiving.net and is a passionate cat lover, blogger, and part-time music teacher. She founded her blog to share her ups and downs of being a pet parent to a bunch of adorable kittens and cats. When she is not playing with them or teaching, you can find her experimenting in the kitchen