If you think your pet has the right stuff to be of service or if she's already shown a knack for assisting in circumstances that require a specialty, she's probably a good candidate to become a service animal. Getting your pet certified will ensure that she can accompany you anywhere.
Any Animal Can Serve
Dogs are the pets most often thought of as service animals, but cats and other animals can qualify and be trained as service animals, too. Most often a pet other than a dog that is a certified service animal is an Emotional Support Animal, helping those who suffer from depression, panic attacks, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorders. If the presence of a pet reduces or eliminates emotional disability symptoms, or if she can at least perform three tasks to help a physically disabled person, then she can be certified as a service animal, no matter whether she is a dog, cat, rabbit or iguana.
Doctor's Orders Not Required
Because all disabilities aren't on the outside, you might think it is necessary to get a letter from a licensed mental health therapist or other doctor stating that you absolutely require help from a service animal. Something like that isn't necessary to certify and register your pet, and get the credentials you'll need when taking her into public places where pets typically are banned. Your pet can be trained, get registered and receive certification without a doctor's recommendation. If you can get a letter of prescription, though, it might be handy to have, as not all public places recognize emotional support animals. Having proof that your health care professional requires your pet to be with you at all times will save some hassle and heartache if someone challenges whether or not your pet is legit.
There are schools that train service animals and even ones that specialize in training them for unusual conditions, but sending your pet away to school isn't necessary. You can train her yourself to have her certified as a service animal. There essentially are two components to training a service animal. The first is that they should display acceptable behavior in public. If your dog has taken a Canine Good Citizen class and received a certificate, she will be able to handle herself in public situations without disruption or annoying anyone. The second part of certification deals with the specialized training your pet would need to be the type of service animal you have in mind. If she already has shown skills that assist with a physical disability, or if she is going to be an emotional support animal, then little, if any, training is needed.
The Americans with Disabilities Act doesn't require that a service animal be certified, although each individual state has its own requirements and some public facilities will ask for proof that your pet is certified to be a service animal. You should find out what the laws are in your own state, but you also can have your pet registered and certified through an official service. These services will place your pet on a national registry and they'll provide you with a letter of certification, picture ID for your pet and patches that can be attached to your pet's vest or harness that identify her as an official service animal. Often just having the badge visible will make it possible for your pet to go anywhere in public without being questioned. Do your homework, though, when choosing a registry and certification service. The service you choose should be accredited by the Better Business Bureau so you know they won't just take your money and provide nothing in return. You'll also want to know that the service you go with has a live-help customer service department. If you can't get a live person on the phone to answer questions, it's probably not a legitimate service.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.