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“Is it a service dog, a therapy dog or a companion dog (pet)?”

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Email   Print   Share By Master SGT. Scott Weant, Assistant IG
April 26, 2012 | News
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You may ask yourself, what is the difference between a service dog, a therapy dog and a companion dog (pet)? Office of The Surgeon General/Medical Command Policy Memo 12-005 gives the overarching guidance on the use of animals in the healthcare setting. In this Memorandum for Commanders, MEDCOM Regional Medical Commands, you can find the difference between a service dog, therapy dog and a companion dog (pet). Here are the definitions laid out in the Policy Memo.

Service dogs

A service dog is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Example: seeing-eye dogs used by the visually-handicapped. Active-duty service members being considered for a service dog must have a Permanent 3 profile in one of the PULHES categories. Individuals requiring a service dog generally are expected to require such dog for an extended period of time (typically for life). Such a requirement renders a service member non-deployable. Service dogs are not authorized in a theater of operation.

Therapy dogs

Therapy dogs are used in goal-directed interventions wherein the dog is an integral part of a treatment process designed to improve physical, social, emotional and cognitive function. The interventional goals are designed, documented and tracked by a human healthcare professional and are tailored to each patient’s individual needs. Upon completion of a “therapy session,” the dog is retained under the control and possession of Military Treatment Facility or volunteers, rather than the patient. Also note that a therapy dog is different from a service dog in that it is not owned by the Soldier, but instead owned by the military or other organization, and it is never in the possession of the Soldier. A therapy dog will never be alone with a Soldier.

Companion dogs (pets)

A companion dog is defined as any dog owned by individual Soldiers or beneficiaries not meeting the definition of a service or therapy dog. These terms are synonymous for the purposes of this memorandum.

For more information on the differences and requirements, see the OTSG/MEDCOM Policy Memo 12-005 by the Department of the Army Headquarters, United States Army Medical Command 2748 Worth Road, Fort Sam Houston, TX 78234-6000

Here are some commonly asked questions about services animals (dogs) in places of business.

Q: How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?

A: Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. However, an individual who is going to a restaurant or theater is not likely to be carrying documentation of his or her medical condition or disability.

Q: What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?

A: The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from others.

Q: Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?

A: No. The care or supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of its owner. You are not required to provided care, food or special location for the animal.

If you have further questions about services animals or other requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, you may call the U.S. Department of Justice’s toll free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301.

As always, the IG is here to help.
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