Beginning the search for a support animal can be very overwhelming. The biggest factor in deciding to get a support animal is deciding which type to get. There are three different types of service animals; emotional support animals, therapy dogs, and service dogs, and each type comes with its own benefits and regulations associated with it.
Emotional Support Animal
Commonly called an ESA, ESAs have the least restrictions out of all the options beginning with the fact that they can be literally any animal. They also require little training, but if your animal becomes aggressive, it will no longer be allowed to be an ESA. A common misconception about ESAs is “anyone can get one” or all you have to do in order to get one is sign it up on a sketchy website. This is not the case. In order to qualify for an emotional support animal, you need a letter from a psychiatrist, doctor, or mental health counselor stating you have been in treatment with them for a certain amount of time and they believe having an animal would be beneficial to your wellbeing. This letter allows you to live with your animal in places that might not typically allow pets and also allows you to not pay a pet fee. You can also bring these animals with you on an airplane, however, each airline may have restrictions on which type of animal you can bring. Other than that though, your animal being an ESA does not guarantee the right to walk into public spaces such as restaurants, grocery stores, or any other business with pet restrictions.
Service dogs are more widely accepted, and they require a lot more training. These dogs are specifically trained to perform tasks their disabled owner can't. For example, there are guide dogs for blind or vision impaired people, dogs trained to sense if a seizure is coming and act as a pillow in order to prevent the owner from a head injury, and dogs who are able to carry groceries, or fetch important items for their owner, as well as many others. This training can take a long time, and it never truly stops. In order to qualify for a service dog, you must be older than 14, have a physical disability, be in a stable home environment, and be physically and cognitively able to provide at least one hour of training each day. You also must consult a doctor to make sure it will be mutually beneficial. Service dogs are allowed in all public spaces and have the same airplane and housing benefits as an ESA.
These dogs are typically used for people in hospice, nursing homes, hospitals, disaster areas and more. They are often a shorter-term companion and work with multiple people at the same time.
Another thing to keep in mind when searching for a support animal is the breed. This is especially important for dogs. These dogs are out in public and with that comes lots of people and other animals and it is extremely important for the animal to be well behaved and calm in chaotic environments. I hope some of these things helped you decide if getting an animal is right for you, or at least cleared some confusion about the differences.