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Assistance Animals

tan pit bull wearing a red and black service vest looking at camera

Access needs related to assistance animals typically fall under one of two categories: service animals or emotional support animals. It’s important for students, instructors, and support staff to understand the differences between these and to follow the appropriate procedures to support students with assistance animals. Below, we summarize how SSD works with assistance animals, but it may also be helpful to review Virginia Tech's Guidelines on Service Animals and Assistance/Support Animals.  

Service Animals

Service animals provide active support to a person with a disability and are permitted to accompany the animal handler in all public areas at the University with few exceptions. Well recognized for their role among people with visual disabilities, they are increasingly used for stability, seizures, signaling auditory information, retrieval, and medical alerts. 

Typically, no additional information will be requested when it is readily apparent that an individual has a disability and requires a qualified service animal. Exceptions occasionally occur, such as when a service animal might accompany their handler into a sterile environment such as a lab. Any additional information requested will be used to help ensure the safety of all participants, the animal, and discuss the use of protective gear. In cases when safety concerns prohibit an animal from accompanying their handler, additional information will assist SSD and instructors with determining alternative supports. It is strongly recommended that students using service animals connect with SSD so that the student has a working relationship with our office.

Additional information requested may include explaining the work or task that the animal has been trained to perform. But the animal will not be required to demonstrate this task and no documentation of training will be required. 

Students using a service animal can receive a service animal visa from our office to keep with them as they participate in university activities. This information can also be included on a student’s course accessibility letter to provide instructors with information on how to support the student if an issue arises in the classroom. 

If the service animal will be residing in campus housing, the student is required to provide advanced notice to SSD and Housing and Residence life by completing the housing accommodation application and the assistance animal care agreement. 

Emotional Support Animals

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal whose primary role is to provide emotional comfort to a person with a disability. These animals are not required to undergo specialized training. ESAs are not the same as service animals in that they are not individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. A student living in University owned or leased housing who wishes to request an ESA accommodation must complete the housing accommodation application. Upon approval, students must complete the assistance animal care agreement.