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Ask AutismBC

How do I get an emotional support dog?

September 12th, 2021

Lisa Watson

For Caregivers, Autistic adults, professionals

The decision to get a service dog is not something that should be taken lightly. Before you embark on your journey, we strongly encourage you to do your research and find the right organization for you and your lifestyle. Therapy, emotional support, and service dogs all have different skills and regulations. Please read Lisa's answer to this commonly asked question.

“I am interested in getting an emotional support or therapy dog but I don’t know the difference. How do I know which one is best suited to my current needs as a person on the autism spectrum?”

Thanks for your email. Here is some information to use as a starting point. My understanding is that any animal can be an emotional support animal but there are different guidelines for therapy and service animals.   

Service Animal Organizations 

I know a few families that have had service dogs in the past. One currently has a dog and it is allowed to go to school with her child (SD23) as part of a pilot program. The other families I know that have had service dogs haven’t sent their dogs to school in our district. I think it might be district-dependent, so I would check with your district; however, the friend that shared the information below says that as a service dog they legally can not be denied access to the school. I know families that have dogs from all of the above organizations with the exception of MSAR as I just learned about it.   

Here is some information from my friend that raises dogs for PADS Okanagan:  

To clarify first, there is a difference between a service dog and a therapy dog: 

  • Service dog: provides a service to a person with a disability. They have the legal right to access. A service dog must (1) pass a public access test, and (2) provide a service to a person with a disability. The handler and the dog both receive a licence from the BC government once approved. You can train your own service dog as long as it passes the test. Information on service dog registration is here.
  • Therapy dog: does not have legal rights or access in BC. They can be permitted in some establishments, but they can also be refused. Therapy dogs are pets with some testing to show that they are sufficiently well-behaved to be in public. St. Johns Ambulance has a therapy dog program. 

Purchase of licenses online is not legal in Canada. These dogs and licences threaten the work being done by actual service animals serving someone who needs them as they can be disruptive to working dogs. Further ill-behaved dogs who have purchased vests or online certification, make businesses and people wary of actual service dogs and puts the program at risk. 

Also some information from her about their VIP program.  To make an application or to ask questions, please contact their Interior Regional Development Coordinator, Brian Smith ([email protected]).  

Very Important Pet (VIP) Dogs 

VIP Dogs are special, very well-trained dogs that were not suitable for working with a client in public. This dog can be placed with a child or adult who has a disability as a pet. These dogs do not have any public access or special skills training, they are young adult dogs that we believe will be an asset to somebody with a disability looking for the companionship and love a dog can provide. We also understand that while many parents of a disabled child would love to have a pet for their child, the time and effort it would take to train and socialize a dog enough for it to be safe around the child is not always doable. 

Requirements for a VIP Dog
  • Dogs may not be left for more than 4 hrs: An adult must be home during the day. While in puppy-raising, a PADS puppy is never left alone for more than four hours total in a day, therefore they are unaccustomed to spending long periods of time alone and away from people. Since the dog is already making a big adjustment moving from the puppy-raisers house to yours, it is unfair to add the stress of being alone for long periods of time as well. 
  • VIP Dogs are only placed with individuals with a disability. Preference will be given to children with disabilities, but we also accept applications from adults with disabilities who do not require a Service Dog but would like the companionship of a well-trained and socialized dog. 
  • Because they are simply pets, VIP Dogs do NOT have public access.   A typical adoption fee for a PADS VIP dog is $2000. 
General Release Dog
  • Dogs may not be left for more than 4 hrs: An adult must be home during the day, or you must be able to have the dog accompany you to work. While in puppy-raising, a PADS puppy is never left alone for more than four hours total in a day, therefore they are unaccustomed to spending long periods of time alone and away from people. Since the dog is already making a big adjustment moving from the puppy-raisers house to yours, it is unfair to add the stress of being alone to the dog as well. 
  • Adoption Fees: All released dogs are spayed/neutered and up to date on vaccinations. A typical adoption fee for a PADS release dog is $2000. This amount may vary, depending on the release reason. 
  • Public Access/Working Careers: Released PADS dogs have no public access.  Also, before release PADS evaluates each dog for other working careers, therefore often one of the conditions of adoption is that they may not be used by other agencies for other working roles (some exceptions may apply depending on the reasons for release such as volunteering as a pet visitation dog).

Our team receives many questions from the autism community each week and we strive to support each and every one of them by empowering them with knowledge and our lived experiences. You can reach out to our team here if you have questions or concerns, or if you simply need some guidance and support. 


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