|Boaz isn't a service dog or a therapy dog, but he still knows basic commands, like "sit"|
In the previous post I highlighted Richochet, a dog that trained since birth to be a service dog. Unfortunately parts of her personality didn't fit some of the requirements to be a service dog. She was lucky enough to have found a different way to work with people in a healing manner. I would almost even say that she is a therapy animal instead.
So what exactly is the difference?
Service animals are defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The animals are working animals (not pets!), and are trained to assist a person with disabilities with everyday tasks. For example, Ricochet was taught how to open doors, turn on lights, unzip zippers, etc.
The ADA protects people with service animals, allowing their animals to accompany them into businesses. Basically, these animals allow people with disabilities to be independent. Instead of having to rely on a friend to take them to run their errands, they can work with their service animal to complete their "to do list". Having a service animal can be a very empowering thing for someone with a disability.
Because service animals are relied on so heavily they are extremely well trained, usually with training beginning when the animal is very young. A person's life can depend on the training of a service animal so training is strict. These animals usually aren't supposed to be interacted with (so no petting) while they are working so they aren't distracted from their responsibilities.
Therapy animals, on the other hand, usually work with many people. Most often their role is to act as a comforter, motivator, or educational tool. Therapy animals quite often are the handler's pet and a handler could be anyone from a volunteer to healthcare staff, teacher, psychologist, etc.
The animals are chosen to be therapy animals based on their personality and ability to follow basic commands. There are a few different groups that can certify your pet to be a therapy animal. An animal can become a therapy animal at any age, although usually they don't start until they are older and calmer.
One important thing to keep in mind is that handlers, and people that interact with therapy animals are not protected under the ADA, so that means that your therapy animal is not allowed in businesses (unless the business welcomes animals).
If you are interested in your animal (whether it is a cat, dog, rabbit, guinea pig, or lizard) becoming a therapy animal here's a webpage that lists programs in different states.