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Assistance Animals

Description of service, emotional support, and therapy animals; what is allowed on campus; and how to go about requesting to have an assistance animal on campus with you

What is a service animal?

A service animal is defined as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. These tasks can include things like pulling a wheelchair, guiding a person who is visually impaired, or alerting a person who is having a seizure. The tasks a service dog can perform are not limited to this list. However, the work or task a service dog (or in some cases a miniature horse) does must be directly related to the person’s disability. Service dogs may accompany persons with disabilities into places that the public normally goes. This includes businesses open to the public and public transportation. At Penn State, this includes residence halls, classrooms, the library, dining halls, etc.

The law that allows a trained service dog to accompany a person with a disability is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Per Penn State’s University Policy AD66,

Student Disability Resources is involved in student requests to have a service animal on campus, in classrooms, and in housing facilities.

What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal (typically dog or cat though this can include other animals) that provides a therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship. The animal provides emotional support and comfort to individuals with psychological disorders and other mental impairments. The animal is not specifically trained to perform tasks for a person who has emotional disabilities. Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal is not granted access to places of public accommodation.

At Penn State, an emotional support animal’s access is restricted to the housing environment. Under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), an emotional support animal is viewed as a “reasonable accommodation” in a housing unit that has a “no pets” rule for its residents.

Student Disability Resources is involved in student requests to have an emotional support animal in Penn State’s housing facilities.

Student Disability Resources does not review requests to have an Emotional Support Animal in off campus housing. For off campus housing, consult with your rental management office. 

Differences between a service animal and an emotional support animal

The primary differences between service animals and emotional support animals (ESA) are as follows:

  • A service animal has received individualized, specialized training to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. In contrast, an emotional support animal does not need specialized training and instead provide passive comfort, support, and companionship by its mere presence.
  • A service animal is related to access and can accompany its handler into public establishments. In contrast, an emotional support animal is considered an accommodation and is restricted access to the housing environment only.
  • Documentation from a qualified professional is not required in allowing a service animal on campus. In contrast, documentation from a qualified professional is necessary in determining the need for an emotional support animal in campus housing.

What is a therapy animal?

A therapy animal is another type of assistance animal. Unlike service animals and emotional support animals, a therapy dog is a pet trained to interact with many people other than its handler to make those people feel better. Therapy animals are trained to behave safely around a diverse range of people. A therapy dog handler is not given public access rights by any service dog laws to take the dog out everywhere like service dog users because the handler does not have a disability that the dog is individually trained to mitigate.

Therapy dogs are only allowed in places like hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, though this is not an exhaustive list.

Student Disability Resources is not generally involved in situations involving therapy animals.

Process to request use of a service animal

The following steps outline the process to request a service animal accompany a student on campus:

  • Contact Student Disability Resources to schedule an appointment to discuss the work or task the dog has been trained to perform along with owner responsibilities
  • If the service animal will reside in campus housing, then complete and submit the Request for Service Animal in University Housing form

Process to request permission to have an emotional support animal in Penn State housing

The following steps outline the process to request to have an emotional support animal (ESA) in campus housing:

  • Accept a Housing and Food Service Contract to live on campus
  • Submit the Request for Emotional Support Animal form after it is completed by a qualified professional who individually treats the student
  • Contact Student Disability Resources to schedule an intake appointment to discuss the relationship between the student’s disability and the support provided by the emotional support animal

Can service animals or emotional support animals be removed from campus?

Service animals and emotional support animals may be subject to removal from campus if the owners do not comply with all applicable University and Pennsylvania dog laws. These include but are not limited to:

  • proper vaccinations
  • use of leashes
  • care and control of animal
  • proper cleanup and waste removal

Service animal responsibilities are detailed in Penn State’s University Policy AD66, and owner responsibilities for service animals or emotional support animals will be reviewed with students upon approval to have the animal on campus.