Cats versus dogs- the debate between the owners of these two species does not seem to come to an end soon… Most of you are likely to have heard at least once the following statement in a dogs’ defense: “Dogs are smart, they can be trained, they are loyal and will never betray you...”. Cat owners, on the other hand, are not likely to stand a defeat and are ready to defend the pride and intelligence of their beloved paw friends. “Cats can be trained as well, although they are not considered the most trainable specie, they are loving, cuddly and provide great emotional support”- A statement that a lot of cat owners are likely to say occasionally.
Since we have discussed many topics in regard to dogs, and service dogs in particular, and eventually managed to convince you what great creatures they are, we would like to pay some attention to cats as well. If you are wondering whether cats can become service animals or not, you may want to keep reading.
What are Service Animals?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines the term “service animal” as a: “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability.” As the definition indicates only dogs can be accepted as service animals in the US. However, as we mentioned before, some states such as: Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Montana Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee (Tennessee accepts police horses as service animals) Washington, and Wyoming, recognize miniature horses as service animals as well.
Can Cats Become Service Animals?
As it is understood by the ADA definition of a “service animal”, cats can not become service animals.
However, that does not mean that these wonderful creatures can not be assistance animals at all!
Can Cats Become Emotional Support Animals?
Yes, they can! Emotional Support Animals (ESA) can be all types of domesticated species like dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, mice, rats, hedgehogs, mini pigs, ferrets, etc.), and they can be of any age. ESAs are animals that provide comfort and companionship to their owners, without being individually trained to perform specific tasks, related to their owner’s disability. However, you should remember that ESAs are required to behave properly and be obedient while in public. The handler must be able to handle their ESA at all times.
ESAs are no longer accepted in the passenger cabin during a flight, so if you want to travel with your kitty, you need to be prepared to let him/her travel in the cargo area. More information about the new airline regulations in regard to traveling with service animals, that came into effect earlier this year, can be found in our article “New 2021 Rules and Restriction for Flying with Service Dogs (and ESA)”. Moreover, Emotional Support Animals do not have access rights to public premises. Whether your ESA will be allowed on a certain facility or not, depends on the local laws and the pet policy of the management.
Can You Request Reasonable Accommodation To Your Cat as an ESA?
Although ESAs are not granted any access rights under the ADA, they still are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This means that you are eligible to require the so-called “reasonable accommodation”. For more clarification, you can take a look at the following two paragraphs from the ADA National Network website, quoted below:
“Laws prohibit employment discrimination because of a disability. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation. Allowing an individual with a disability to have a service animal or an emotional support animal accompany them to work may be considered an accommodation”.
“Emotional support animals that do not qualify as service animals under the ADA may nevertheless qualify as reasonable accommodations under the FHA.9 In cases when a person with a disability uses a service animal or an emotional support animal, a reasonable accommodation may include waiving a no-pet rule or a pet deposit.10 This animal is not considered a pet.”
In general, we can say that you definitely can require your landlord or employer to provide reasonable accommodation to your cat. However, we would like to note, that there is no official service dog or emotional support animal registry in the US and such a registry itself does not give you and your ESA any rights. In order to prove the legitimacy of your Emotional Support Animal whether a cat or another specie, you must be able to provide a letter issued by your psychiatrist/mental health professional that proves your need for an ESA.
Can Cats Become Therapy Animals?
Why not? Therapy Animals (TAs) just like Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are not trained to provide specific tasks, directly related to an individual’s disability. Hence, both terms are related to animals, that are not considered service animals. Therapy animals, mostly dogs, are trained to provide comfort to people in hospitals, schools, nursing homes...etc. Therapy animals help these people cope easier with the therapy they are going through, deal with traumatic events, recover from an accident or a stressful experience, regain their confidence, improve their learning skills...etc. Not only dogs, but also cats and other species like bunnies, horses and even lizards have been working as therapy animals. In order to be approved for a work as a therapy animal, your pet may need to go through a detailed evaluation and be certified by an organization. In most cases, therapy animals belong to volunteers who visit a certain type of facilities and do not have any rights outside the premise where they are serving.
Although the service dog regulations in the US do not recognize cats as service animals, you still can benefit from the emotional support these lovely creatures provide. Most cat owners will agree that cuddling with their meowing friend is a wonderful experience that makes them calmer and happier. You can enjoy the companionship of your kitty as a pet or turn him/her into a support animal.