Senior man with his dog sitting in chair beside window and sharing loveTherapy dogs and service dogs are invaluable to many people, especially kūpuna who suffer from physical disabilities, loneliness, depression or even dementia.

What’s the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog?

A service dog, as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), is a dog that is trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities who can’t do them for themselves. For example, a service dog might guide people who are visually or hearing-impaired or pull a wheelchair for a disabled person. They can even be trained to get life-saving medications if their owners become ill.

A therapy dog is more of a companion, providing affection, emotional support, comfort and a sense of well-being to its owner or to many individuals. For example, a therapy dog might be employed by an assisted living facility or a hospital to help patients who are suffering from anxiety. The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu is one such facility that makes therapy dogs available to their patients. It has two therapy dogs: Yoda and Ipa, who are so popular that they’ve become stars among Queen’s staff and patients.

Senior woman in wheelchair and her dog outdoorsWhat tasks can service dogs provide?

Service dogs are able to perform tasks that are needed for a handler’s specific disabilities.
Mobility service dogs are able to open and close doors, retrieve items, pull a manual wheelchair, find the phone, “brace” to balance the handler and turn light switches on and off.
Psychiatric service dogs are trained to awaken handlers from PTSD nightmares and perform deep pressure therapy.
Hearing service dogs respond to different sounds: knocking and doorbells, timers and alarm clocks, smoke alarms, telephones, baby cries and the handler’s name.
Medical alert dogs are trained to alert the handler and others to conditions like seizures.

What are the regulations regarding emotional support animals?

An emotion support animal can be a dog, but could also be any other type of pet that an owner deems necessary for their well-being. Neither Hawai‘i law nor ADA regulations cover emotional support animals. Although they often have therapeutic benefits, they are not given the same rights as service and therapy dogs. Laws regarding emotional support dogs are tightening and it may no longer be possible to take your pet along on a trip — no matter how much support you say your furry friend brings.

Service, therapy and emotional support dogs enhance quality of life, increase independence and offer therapeutic healing. If you’re considering a service dog, contact the qualified organizations listed below.

ASSISTANCE DOGS OF HAWAII (501(c) 3 nonprofit)
PO Box 1803, Makawao, HI 96768
808-298-0167 |
HAWAII FI-DO SERVICE DOGS (501(c) 3 nonprofit)
PO Box 757, Kahuku, HI 96731
808-638-0200 |