Defining Terms Used for Animals Working in Support Roles for People with Support Needs

Tiffani J. Howell*, Leanne Nieforth, Clare Thomas-Pino, Lauren Samet, Sunday Agbonika, Francisca Cuevas-Pavincich, Nina Ekholm Fry, Kristine Hill, Brinda Jegatheesan, Miki Kakinuma, Maureen MacNamara, Sanna Mattila-Rautiainen, Andy Perry, Christine Y. Tardif-Williams, Elizabeth Ann Walsh, Melissa Winkle, Mariko Yamamoto, Rachel Yerbury, Vijay Rawat, Kathy AlmAshley Avci, Tanya Bailey, Hannah Baker, Pree Benton, Catherine Binney, Sara Boyle, Hagit Brandes, Alexa M. Carr, Wendy Coombe, Kendra Coulter, Audrey Darby, Lowri Davies, Esther Delisle, Marie Jose Enders-Slegers, Angela Fournier, Marie Fox, Nancy Gee, Taryn M. Graham, Anne Hamilton-Bruce, Tia G.B. Hansen, Lynette Hart, Morag Heirs, Jade Hooper, Rachel Howe, Elizabeth Johnson, Melanie Jones, Christos Karagiannis, Emily Kieson, Sun A. Kim, Christine Kivlen, Beth Lanning, Helen Lewis, Deborah Linder, Dac Loc Mai, Chiara Mariti, Rebecca Mead, Gilly Mendes Ferreira, Debbie Ngai, Samantha O’Keeffe, Grainne O’Connor, Christine Olsen, Elizabeth Ormerod, Emma R. Power, Peggy A. Pritchard, Kerri Rodriguez, Deborah Rook, Matthew B. Ruby, Leah Schofield, Tania Signal, Jill Steel, Wendy Stone, Melissa Symonds, Diane van Rooy, Tiamat Warda, Monica Wilson, Janette Young, Pauleen Bennett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/Letter to the editorAcademicpeer-review


The nomenclature used to describe animals working in roles supporting people can be confusing. The same term may be used to describe different roles, or two terms may mean the same thing. This confusion is evident among researchers, practitioners, and end users. Because certain animal roles are provided with legal protections and/or government-funding support in some jurisdictions, it is necessary to clearly define the existing terms to avoid confusion. The aim of this paper is to provide operationalized definitions for nine terms, which would be useful in many world regions: “assistance animal”, “companion animal”, “educational/school support animal”, “emotional support animal”, “facility animal”, “service animal”, “skilled companion animal”, “therapy animal”, and “visiting/visitation animal”. At the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ) conferences in 2018 and 2020, over 100 delegates participated in workshops to define these terms, many of whom co-authored this paper. Through an iterative process, we have defined the nine terms and explained how they differ from each other. We recommend phasing out two terms (i.e., “skilled companion animal” and “service animal”) due to overlap with other terms that could potentially exacerbate confusion. The implications for several regions of the world are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1975
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • assistance animal
  • companion animal
  • educational support animal
  • emotional support animal
  • facility animal
  • human–animal interaction
  • service animal
  • therapy animal
  • visiting animal


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