Therapy, companion dogs are not in same category as disability assistance animals

I have a question about the difference between service dogs and companion dogs. I know service dogs are for people with a disability, and the dog provides a service. But what about companion dogs?

People call them service dogs, and they are being seen in more places, including grocery stores, doctors' offices and restaurants. I rarely see them on a leash, and they often run about. Some even have green vests.

I love dogs but am allergic to some breeds. It seems they should not be on the table or chair in a restaurant that I might use. Who monitors the rules and what are the rules?

— Sniffles and itches, but still a dog lover

Pet owners are indeed allowed to bring "service" dogs into restaurants, shopping centers and other public venues where dogs would otherwise be banned. But those dogs are supposed to provide a necessary service or safeguard.

In 2011, the Department of Justice amended sections of the American Disabilities Act, redefining "service animal" as a dog or — brace yourself — miniature pony (but no more service pigs and rodents).

The new rules prohibit people from inquiring about a person's disability or asking for proof of their service dog's credentials.

"Assistance dogs," which include guide dogs, hearing dogs and other dogs that provide a physical service, are permitted in all public places, but "therapy" dogs — those that provide emotional support — and pet or "companion" dogs are not.

"When I hear people say, "This is my therapy dog. I'm allowed in here.' It tells me they don't understand the definition of assistance dog," said John Drach, training director for Dogs for the Deaf in Central Point.

Some businesses, such as nursing homes and children's wards, independently authorize therapy dogs to come in and cheer up residents and patients, Drach added.

There is no protected category of "companion" dog that allows entrance into businesses, although there have been rulings that companion dogs must be allowed in rentals that have no-pet rules.

Drach said if someone brings a dog into a store, business employees may ask if the dog is a service dog and what tasks it has been trained to do. If a dog — service dogs included — is unruly or not groomed, businesses can turn them away.

All service dogs are required to be on a leash or in a harness unless they are performing a specific task, Drach said.

And you're right, Sniffles, just because the dog is wearing a vest doesn't make it legit — a variety of "service animal" vests may be purchased online by anyone with a credit card.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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