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Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

If you have axial spondyloarthritis (AxSpA), you might have considered a service animal to support you. Service animals are often associated with those needing a seeing-eye dog or mobility assistance. However, they are actually used for a wider variety of chronic illnesses, including various arthritis diseases.

Both service animals and emotional support animals can be helpful for those with AxSpA. There are differences between the 2 types of animals, including how they protect and perform roles to help their handler.

Service animals

Service animals are trained to perform tasks to assist someone with a disability or chronic illness. Tasks that service dogs are trained to help their handler with include:1-3

  • Crossing streets
  • Shopping
  • Navigating buildings
  • Pushing elevator buttons
  • Retrieving dropped items

Service dogs are not pets. They should not be touched or interacted with by others while working. Service animals need to stay focused on keeping their handler safe. Service animals are usually dogs, though occasionally miniature horses are also trained. Only dogs are protected under the American Disabilities Act (ADA) as service animals.1-3

Service animals may enter places that deny entry to pets. Businesses are allowed to ask if the handler is using the animal for a disability and what tasks it performs. The handler should be able to list specific tasks the dog performs.1-3

Service animals spend several months in extensive training before being matched with a handler. The handler and dog then go through additional training together. The handler learns how to command the dog, and the dog learns the specific needs of the handler.1-3

Emotional support animals

Emotional support animals, also called support or therapy animals, are socialized to offer support and comfort. This support can be both for their family and others. Support animals may go on visits to rehab, long-term care facilities, or nursing homes where they provide emotional support and comfort to residents.1-3,5

These animals do not go through the extensive training of service dogs. Emotional support animals are not protected under the ADA. They do not meet the criteria of performing specific tasks to assist a handler. They can be refused entrance to those places that deny entry to pets. Misrepresenting a therapy dog or household pet as a service animal can result in fines or jail time.1-3,5

Support for ankylosing spondylitis

People diagnosed with AxSpA or other arthritis conditions have found service and therapy animals to be valuable. The comfort of a therapy dog curling up with you on flare days can be soothing. Some ways they may support people with AxSpA include:4-5

  • Providing stability when walking or standing
  • Picking things up off the floor
  • Parting crowds to avoid being bumped and losing balance
  • Getting dressed or undressed
  • Bringing items left in another room
  • Reminders to take medicine
  • Carrying groceries

Many people with AxSpA or other arthritis diseases worry that requesting a service dog is taking an animal from someone whose need is greater. This is not true! Only certain dogs match with a handler who has severe limitations. Many are available to those who can benefit more broadly from a service dog’s assistance. Such handlers have more ability to command and control the dog. It is important to remember that dogs are an investment. A handler must be able to care for and provide for their service dog.4,5

Getting a service dog

There are many organizations throughout the United States that train service dogs. After finding one in your area, you need to submit an application. Once your application is approved, you may wait for 1 to 3 years before being matched with a service animal. It is important that you be matched with an animal that meets your specific needs. The cost of service animals can be expensive and is not covered by insurance.2,4,5

If you have a service or emotional support animal, share in the comments below.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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