Service animals are a vital part of life for millions of people with disabilities. But given the new challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, nationwide demand for service animals has skyrocketed. For instance, in 2020 alone, demand for guide dogs rose by 300%, according to a VOCM report. This rate is expected to continue as more people enter their senior years, thereby requiring more personalized assistance.
That said, getting a service animal is not as easy as adopting a furry friend as a pet. Even if your healthcare provider has named you eligible for a service animal, there are still considerations to keep in mind if you’re serious about taking on a service animal.
Service animals are different from Emotional Support Animals
Before anything else, it’s important to determine that what you need actually is a service animal and not an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). To differentiate them, this guide from SymptomFindon the two types of animal companions, describes them as having entirely different roles. Service animals are trained to complete tasks for individuals with specific physical or mental disabilities. Meanwhile, ESAs aren’t necessarily trained or expected to perform tasks. If you are in need of an animal companion who can help you with your day-to-day activities—and offer companionship—then a service animal is the right fit for you.
Your health insurance doesn’t cover service animals
Although service animals can be integral assets towards your daily wellbeing, they are generally not covered by health insurance. Even Medicare, which typically covers home health services does not include service animals. This means that although Medicare home health carecan provide coverage for eight hours every day, including services like aides, nursing care, and social services, you will need to look for other ways to cover service animal costs. For some people, this means using their “back benefits” payment or joining a charity waiting list. This is an important factor since service dogs can cost up to $50,000.
Only dogs can be recognized as service animals
If you aren’t too comfortable with dogs but want a service animal, this may get tricky. As explained in this article from Newsweek about recognized service animals, only dogs are allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This federal legislation states that aside from the fact that only dogs can be service animals, they must also have completed training, and should be “harnessed, leashed, or tethered”. Curiously, there are extra provisions under ADA that permit miniature horses as service animals for certain cases. However, this is a much less popular option, given the logistical demands of having a horse.
Traveling may get complicated with service animals
While the ADA does offer benefits and legal rights for recognized service animals, individuals who plan to travel may need to do extra paperwork. For your dog to travel without issue internationally, this release from the USDAnotes that many countries require an international health certificate. This comes at no extra cost from the USDA, but it does involve some work. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which aims to prevent discrimination against differently-abled passengers, also offers protection to service animals. However, airlines have the right to require owners to submit service dog paperwork 48 hours before a flight to vouch for the animal’s health and training. This isn’t meant to ostracize service animals but rather to verify their role.
Getting a service animal can be a life-changing decision. But for it to be a positive one, make sure to understand the lifestyle changes they’ll bring. Though they will generally improve your day-to-day activities, you will still have to make adjustments. If after careful consideration, you’re sure that you can benefit from and properly provide for a service animal, then get ready to welcome the newest partner in your healthcare journey.
Article written by Rachel James
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