To pet or not to pet? Eight tips for interacting with a service or support animal

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By Jessica Sly, Communications Specialist


service dogService and support animals provide life-saving assistance and emotional aid to their owners and their families.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines “service animal” as a dog that is trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Though other animals can be trained to perform those tasks, only dogs are recognized and protected by the ADA.

Support animals relieve emotional or psychological symptoms connected to a handler’s condition or disorder. Any domesticated animal – cat, bird, hedgehog, miniature pig, dog, etc. – can be an emotional support animal.


The next time you see a service or support animal in public, follow these tips:

  1. Don’t assume an animal without identification isn’t a service animal. By U.S. federal law, dogs are not required to wear a patch, tag or harness that identifies it as such.
  2. Always speak to the owner first, not the animal. They are considered a team.
  3. NEVER touch the animal without first asking permission from the owner. Petting is a distraction and can keep the animal from completing its tasks. If the owner says “no,” smile and respond with, “I understand.”
  4. Don’t offer food to the animal. Treats can be one of the biggest distractions. The animal could also be on a specific diet or feeding schedule.
  5. If the animal is napping, don’t assume it’s off duty. It might be resting because its owner has been sitting or standing for a long time. It is still working.
  6. Don’t assume the animals never get time to just be pets. Their owners recognize how challenging and stressful the job is, so animals get downtime when they’re at home and not needed to help with daily tasks.
  7. Refrain from asking personal questions about the owner’s disability. If you think the animal/handler team might need help, ask first before assisting, and respond in understanding if they decline your offer.
  8. If an animal approaches and engages with you, resist the urge to respond and politely tell the owner. He or she will correct the animal. therapy dog with man in wheelchair


TCHC’s Policy

For patient safety and infection control, Tri-County Health Care (TCHC) has a policy in place to help manage service and support animals on TCHC campuses, which are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Here are some highlights of the policy:

  • Service animals are allowed in any area where the public is normally allowed to go unless it causes a threat to others. For infection control purposes, they are not allowed in certain areas such as places where food is prepared, operating rooms and the nursery.
  • Service animals that show aggression when not provoked may be prevented from entering the facility.
  • Animals not protected under the service animal definition cannot enter TCHC without a Pet Visitation Authorization Form.
  • Though miniature horses are not included in the definition of service animal, they are allowed as service animals but are subject to limitations and the facility’s requirements.

If you have any questions about service or support animals or about the policy, contact Director of Quality, Risk and Compliance, Tammy Suchy, at