The MSPCA-Angell recognizes that people depend on animals for many reasons.
Service Animal: Animals can help individuals with disabilities lead more independent lives by assisting them in the performance of everyday tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. Animals can assist individuals who have physical, visual, or hearing limitations. For example, service animals can assist with tasks such as traveling from one point to another, answering doors and telephones, and retrieving articles. They also can alert owners to potentially dangerous situations such as fire or intruders. The MSPCA-Angell believes that when animals are trained and used to assist humans in this way, it is critical that the needs of the animals, as well as the people, are met.
Therapeutic Program Animal: Animals that are introduced into a variety of settings, including hospitals, shelters, and nursing homes, so that the bond between human/companion and animal is utilized as part of therapeutic programs. The resulting programs have integrated pets and animals into the care and treatment of many diverse populations. The MSPCA-Angell believes when owned animals are trained and used to assist humans in this way, it is critical that the needs of the animals, as well as the people, are met.
Emotional Support Animal (ESA): Animals whose presence provides emotional support in order to help an individual with a disability. Unlike service animals, ESAs are not trained to perform a task or service, but whose companionship helps alleviate the owner’s symptoms of a disability.
While Service Animals are governed under the Americans with Disabilities Act which allows them to accompany owners into public spaces, ESAs are allowed, as required by federal law, in the housing context and in air travel.
We believe it is a problem when people misrepresent animals as assistance animals when they are not. This can lead to confusion and possible hardship for people with legitimate assistance animals.
In order for an assistance animal and its owner to have a successful relationship, the MSPCA-Angell believes that the following criteria must be met:
1. The animal must be a domestic animal that is evaluated and deemed suitable medically, behaviorally, and temperamentally.
2. The owner of the animal or another designated person must accept responsibility for seeing that the animal’s medical, physical, behavioral, and psychological needs are met.
Organized programs that provide assistance animals should adhere to the above criteria as well as the following guidelines:
1. The selection of animals to be used as assistance animals should be based on knowledge of their specific physical, behavioral, and psychological characteristics.
2. The animal should be able to carry out desired tasks without invasive physical manipulation such as teeth pulling or debarking.
3. Sterilization of the animal is highly recommended.
4. Programs that provide temporary housing and care for assistance animals should ensure that the needs of the animals are being properly met during this period.
5. The welfare of the animal involved should be of equal concern and considered just as important as the welfare of the clients involved in the program.
6. Program implementation and operations should be of the highest level of quality, compliant with all applicable state and federal regulations, and in compliance with program client regulations.
7. Training of animals to perform tasks for their owners should be based on positive reinforcement rather than on physical punishment such as striking, choking, or electric shock.
8. Humane disposition should be assured for animals who fail to qualify for the program or become unable to perform required tasks. This also holds true for animals whose assisted owner dies, or animals who, for some other reason, cannot continue in their respective program. Acceptable disposition options include placement with another qualified individual, adoption to a responsible home, or humane euthanasia when appropriate.
The MSPCA-Angell believes that programs that meet the above criteria can provide individuals with a level of independence, support, and security that they would not otherwise be afforded while also ensuring that no harm comes to the animals involved.
Therefore, the MSPCA-Angell will:
- recommend that people work with an established program.
- provide behavior and medical support as needed to animal owners pursuing these programs.
- provide information and guidance to organizations that train, place, or use service animals, including programs provided by the MSPCA-Angell.
- assist programs that meet the above criteria by providing them with animals from MSPCA-Angell shelters when appropriate and when it is in the best interest of the animals.
- oppose assistance programs that do not meet the criteria listed above.