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Emotional Support Pet or Service Animal?

​Good luck to the Woodstock Elementary Robotics team this morning as they face off in the first round of competition.

All year, the 4th grade robotics team has been researching the differences between emotional support animals, service animals, therapy animals, and compiling data for today’s presentation.


Here’s a quick run-down on support animals:

An emotional support animal can help soothe individuals with conditions like Anxiety, Depression, Autism, or uncomfortable health disorders. Some Emotional Support pets have formal training, while most others become emotional support pets naturally. They don’t need formal training, require registration, or need to wear a special vest to accommodate you- a common misconception.

Therapy Animals are trained animals which are taken to nursing homes to uplift the patients, cancer centers, or they are animals used in therapy sessions to aid in a patient’s progress (like PTSD, for example).

Service Animals are a special class of animal which usually have formal, specialized training to aid an individual with necessities like dressing, shopping, tasks in the home, helping a person get around, and other special skills. Service animals can be trained, for example, to alert an individual with epilepsy before an episode so they can take medication or get to safety to avoid being hurt during a seizure. A Service Animal typically wears a vest while “working” and must stay extremely focused, which is why one should never pet a service dog.

Your pet can become your emotional support animal, especially if you have a distressing physical or mental health condition your pet has become attuned to, and helps you to cope with. Your pet won’t become a “service animal” however, unless it recieves appropriate training and/or has been tested.

There is actually quite a bit of controversy surrounding the differences between service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs.  It matters, because taking advantage of service dog and emotional support dog laws can and does put disabled individuals in harm’s way.


After the robotics team learned about the different types of support animals, they decided to study the effects Emotional Support animals can have on people with chronic illness. I was lucky enough to be one of their test subjects by spending time with a fun-loving rabbit named Maz.

After three times bunnysitting, I can say that having a furbaby to talk to, cuddle with, and laugh at does wonders for my mood and movement.

I can’t take care of any pet completely alone, and even the rabbit could be too noisy and messy at times, so the whole family shared in the responsibility.

Since losing my precious dog this past year, life has not been the same. She was my daily emotional support, she adapted to every change with ease, and we shared a special bond that no other can replace.

But each moment I spend with “Maz the rabbit” seems to bandage my heart that much more.

The robotics team has been recording this data, collecting online research, and even visited a rabbit adoption center as a group to learn more about emotional support rabbits.

“Maz” is a full time emotional support rabbit to a young man with Autism who has been kind enough to lend his own fur-baby to the study. Maz is an adventurous and curious little bunny, but when she is finished hopping around exploring, she’ll beg to be pet for hours. 

I’m hoping our robotics team hops over all of the competition today. Rooting for Team W.E.S. Bunnybots!

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