Canine companions help Petal residents in times of need


Dogs. They are our best friends, our family members and the face of everything that is good and wholesome in the world. However, our furry friends can often times serve much bigger roles than simply being our loving and loyal pals.

Often times, service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support animals (ESA) are referenced interchangeably, however the roles they serve are each very different.

It is important to differentiate between these roles, so let’s break them down.

 Emotional support animals help to support those with particular mental or emotional conditions. These dogs do not require any kind of special training, for they help to alleviate their owner’s symptoms by simply being themselves and naturally offering their unconditional love and affection.

Petal native Natalie McAulay recently registered her dog, Arie, as an ESA as a way to help with her anxiety. Since then, she said Arie has helped to tremendously improve her overall quality of life.

McAulay explained that it wasn’t until she attended college that she recognized the need for an ESA. She said that she lives alone, and it was this solitude that initially amplified her anxiety symptoms, which made everyday life difficult.

“As someone who lives by myself, she really helps with the anxiety that comes with just constantly being alone,” she said. “The sense of security that comes with having her is such a relief.”

McAulay said that since adopting Arie, she’s seen major improvement in some of her most frustrating symptoms.

“I would have really bad sleeping problems when my anxiety would worsen; those kind of go hand in hand. Since I got her, my sleep has improved a lot,” she said. “I think it’s just having that source of comfort in the bed with you that has been so helpful in improving my sleep.”

Pups can be registered as emotional support animals per the written recommendation of a licensed physician or therapist. Though some wear vests or other visual certifications, most ESA’s just look like normal pets.

While these animals are not universal access to public places, there are some exceptions when it comes to ESA’s. Under the Fair Housing Act, residencies must allow for ESA’s regardless of the establishment’s pet policy. Also, ESA’s are permitted to accompany their owners on airplanes with proof of a disability under the ACAA.

Service dogs are highly and individually trained animals that perform specific, specialized tasks. These dogs are often essential to the livelihood of their owners, for they assist in areas otherwise limited by their owners’ disabilities.

Service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which permits them access to public facilities such as restaurants, hotels or businesses. Additionally, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) permits them access to accompany their owners on airplanes, and the Department of Justice (DOJ)/Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Fair Housing Act and Federal Rehabilitation Act permits them access to accompany their owners in any sort of housing contract/agreement.

That being said, it is important with withhold from petting these animals if you come across them, no matter how friendly and adorable they might be. Remember these animals are diligently working, and it is best we not distract them from doing their jobs.

Petal resident Margaret Swann said that this is a common issue she and her husband run into with their service dog, Cowboy.

“You wouldn’t pet a wheelchair or a cane,” she said. “Don’t pet a service dog, even though they are way more adorable.”

Like service dogs, therapy dogs are also highly trained, however they serve some very different roles. While service dogs provide assistance directly to their owner, therapy dogs provide comfort to other individuals with particular psychological and physiological needs who are not their owners.

Therapy dogs work in a variety of settings, and their easy-going and obedient temperaments make them especially beneficial in high stress environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, airports or schools. Additionally, some therapy dogs will have exclusive jobs in different clinical settings.

Although these animals are highly trained and meet the standard certifications, they are not permitted the same general access to facilities as service dogs, given that they are not necessarily essential for their owners’ independence and well being. Most times, therapy dogs are permitted access on a case-by-case basis per the discretion of the respective organization or institution.

Unlike service dogs, one of therapy dogs’ primary functions is to literally be pet as much as possible. Therefore, cuddles are certainly encouraged.

Regardless of their roles, each of these types of dogs work diligently to continue doing what dogs ultimately do best at the end of the day – enrich the lives of us humans.