One of the most frequent assumptions people have about therapy pets is that they are the same as emotional support animals. The truth is the roles of therapy pets and emotional support animals couldn’t be more different.
My human eventually figured out a way to easily describe the difference, since it comes up a lot in conversations she has:
Therapy pets are the animal part of a volunteer team that helps ease the emotional suffering of patients they see in hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities. They have to pass an evaluation, carry insurance, and keep up on their shots (the humans too!). We have a vest that we wear, but we are only allowed to have them on during our visits, not at any other time.
Emotional support animals ease the emotional suffering of their owners only. They are prescribed by a therapist, and may get special rights to live in an otherwise pet-free rental. Other than that, they are just regular pets and aren’t required to interact with other people. In fact, emotional support cats may even be a bit shy around people other than their humans.
Can therapy pets also be emotional support animals? Yes, and some are. But many aren’t. I’m an example of a therapy pet that is not an emotional support animal.
Why I’m Not an Emotional Support Animal
The whole reason I can be a therapy cat is that I have the support and help of my human. She makes sure I am completely safe wherever we go. She takes care of everything I need — she is my personal assistant, stylist, bodyguard, photographer, and film director. I trust her implicitly.
On the rare occasions she gets sick, my world falls apart! And it’s very concerning. I get stressed, and when that happens, I can’t be a healing cat. A couple weeks ago, when my human came down with Norovirus, I couldn’t even be around her while she was in bed until she started getting better. In fact, my human knew she was on the mend when I started sleeping next to her again.
If an emotional support animal’s human is in need, that’s when their healing energy kicks in. Their life’s purpose is to lend support to their one person. My life’s purpose is to heal and entertain other people, with the help of my human. Can you see the difference?
So if you know someone that says they are looking for a therapy cat, most of the time they really mean an emotional support animal. Although if they are looking for a volunteer opportunity with their cat (or dog or other pet), that’s also awesome! Either way, it’s important to be clear about what you are looking for.
I hope this helps to clear up some confusion anyone might have.
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