Can Cats Be Service Animals?
By Hannah Baker July 15, 2019
Cats serve us in more ways than we serve them; it’s a universal fact. Ask any cat owner. While we certainly use cats for immense emotional support and friendship on a daily basis, most cat owners have probably wondered if cats can be legitimate service animals. In fact, there are several instances of cats being trained as service animals, even being able to call 911 after their owner had a seizure. In addition, there are hundreds - if not thousands - of cats around the world who are emotional support animals, a designation given to animals that provide support to their owners with mental or emotional conditions. Cats have been heralded as heroes in so many ways for as long as they’ve existed, but can they legally be designated as service animals? Let’s find out.
Legal Service Animals
According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, only dogs and occasionally miniature horses can be legally designated as service animals. This means that cats, even those who have been trained by their owners to assist with their disabilities, cannot legally become service animals at the moment. Service animals are animals that are specially trained to deal with crises and day-to-day operations associated with medical conditions. These animals are normally trained to help their owners in situations where they cannot help themselves; from pulling their wheelchair to bringing medicine to calling 911, service animals are a crucial asset for medical crises. Service animals require special training to deal with the specific condition that their owner has. Since cats are generally seen as less trainable and have less range of motion, the ADA has been hesitant to make them an acceptable service animal.
Emotional Support Animals
Even though cats cannot be legal service animals, they can be emotional support animals. Also known as a comfort animal, an emotional support animal is a legal designation given to a pet that directly provides emotional support to their owner. In order to obtain the designation of emotional support animal, a person must first visit a mental health professional to determine if they have a condition that warrants the need for an emotional support animal. After that, the person must get a written letter from their therapist outlining the reasons why their patient would benefit from an emotional support pet. These reasons can range from anxiety and depression to other psychological or neurological conditions. Once designated as an emotional support animal, these pets can live with their owner despite any no-pet policies by apartment complexes or houses. Pet deposits and other pet fees will be waived. In addition, emotional support animals can also ride with their owner on airplanes without paying a pet fee. Like legal service animals, emotional support animals are usually dogs. However, a person can legally make any animal an emotional support animal or comfort animal - even cats. No training is needed for an animal to gain this designation.
Another designation available to cats is the designation of therapy animal. These are slightly different than emotional support animals because they serve many humans and many purposes rather than just their owner’s specific emotional needs. Therapy animals generally are taken into schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities to provide group emotional support and relief. There is not a special training process to become a therapy animal; however, animals usually undergo a fairly rigorous assessment prior to getting this designation to ensure that they are safe and calm around humans in these facilities. Therapy animals can range anywhere from dogs and cats to bunnies and lizards. Therapy animals can come in large groups owned by an organization with the specific purpose of taking these animals into public facilities, or they can just be owned by one person and provide animal therapy on a smaller, more intimate scale.
How To Make Your Cat An Emotional Support Animal
- Step 1: Get Certified as Emotionally Disabled
If you have a condition that you think would be aided by making your cat an emotional support animal, you must first be legally certified as emotionally disabled. This means seeing a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist or other certified mental health professional. You can see a mental health professional either in person or online. They must certify that you have a mental or emotional condition. These can range from depression to PTSD to autism to any other condition.
- Step 2: Obtain a Letter from Your Medical Health Professional
After your health professional certifies your condition, they must write a letter stating the reasons why they think your condition would benefit from the emotional support animal.
- Step 3: Submit This Letter to Housing Companies and Airlines
Contrary to popular belief, there is no official certification beyond this letter that is needed for your animal to become an emotional service animal. For all purposes like housing and flights, this letter will serve as an official confirmation of your pet as an emotional service animal. You will submit this letter to airlines and housing companies when demonstrating your need for an emotional service animal to accompany you on a flight or in your home. In addition, there is no specific training that your pet will have to go through for this designation.
How To Make Your Cat A Therapy Animal
- Step 1: Socialize Your Cat
If you think your cat would be a great emotional asset to large groups of people, you may have a wonderful therapy animal on your hands. The first step towards making your cat a therapy animal is to socialize them with large groups as much as possible. A therapy animal frequently interacts with large groups of people at once, so your pet will need to be acclimated to this environment.
- Step 2: Book a Home Observation
After this, you will apply to be observed by someone in your area who is qualified to determine if your pet will make a good therapy animal. This consists of testing the animal’s behavioral skills as well as your skills as an owner in handling your pet.
- Step 3: Book Group Observations
After this, you will have an additional three supervised observations in which you will take your animal to a facility and see how they function as a therapy animal in larger groups.
- Step 4: Submit an Application
If you pass all of the observations, you will submit an application to be designated as a therapy animal. Once submitted and approved, you and your pet will successfully be a therapy animal duo. Unlike service animals and emotional support animals, however, therapy animals do not have special rights in terms of housing, public businesses, and airplanes. They are intended to provide support to large groups in certain settings, so they do not have special rights for you to take them places.
The Benefits Of Having An Emotional Support Animal
If you are considering making your cat an emotional support animal or are considering adopting a new cat to be an emotional support animal, you are likely wondering what the benefits would be beyond the normal function of owning a cat. Emotional support animals have specific qualities that help them mitigate emotional and mental conditions. Some areas where emotional support animals help the most are:
- Depression relief
- Anxiety relief
- Reduction of post-traumatic stress
- ADD control
Those who have post-traumatic stress disorder find emotional support animals particularly helpful. In addition, those with anxiety and depression report that emotional support animals are an immense help for their conditions. Cats, specifically, are a wonderful asset as emotional support animals because of their proven emotional benefits like relieving stress, helping with loneliness, companionship, and so much more. Research has also shown that a cat’s purrs are medically beneficial to humans. As such, cats are a wonderful option to consider if you are thinking of getting an emotional support animal to help with any of the conditions listed above.
Perhaps in the future, cats will be able to become legal service animals. For some, cats are already serving this purpose through special training and function. Until then, making your cat an emotional support animal or a therapy animal is a great option to see them reach their full potential as the heroes that they are! Whether you plan to keep your pet at home to help you with your own condition or take them to help larger groups, we hope that this guide will assist you.