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September 18, 2012 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Not Just a Dog's Job

By Victoria Swanson More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Paws & Awws Blog Series

A Service Dog is nothing new. They work along side of a disabled person providing either a physical task, or emotional support. These dogs are very much needed, and respected in the communities around us. But, can you see a monkey or a miniature horse doing the same?

This isn't new or unheard of! A non-profit group called "Helping Hands - Monkey Helpers for the Disabled" has been helping match primates with quadriplegics since 1979. Not just any primate is selected to be used, only Capuchins (remember the monkey causing havoc in the 2006 movie Night at the Museum?). The Capuchins that are used in Helping Hands are nothing like their famous counterpart from the movie who torments Ben Stiller (who played the security guard at the museum).

The first thing these monkeys are taught is "Fetch." To a person that is wheelchair bound and drops a cell phone, this training technique is one of the most important tasks these Capuchins can assist with. Using a laser pointer, the person points at the object they need help with and say "Fetch." The Capuchin happily obliges by grasping the object and giving it back to the person.

Just like Service Dogs, the monkeys are placed in foster homes preparing them for Monkey College, a place where they learn to perform their duties. Helping Hands even has their own breeding facility, so the monkeys come from a well established environment that is regulated.

Like many guide dogs, Capuchins are able to have a relationship with their humans, although it may be considered unique, they provide certain physical tasks, and emotional comfort.

Monkey's aren't the only UNIQUE animal providing assistance for the disabled, what about a guide horse?

Yes, miniature horses are being used to help provide guidance to the blind, or the physically disabled.

These miniature horses' offer a wide range of positives over the traditional guide dog. For example, people that are severely allergic to dogs are able to be around these horses. Horses will naturally guide and lead. Guide horses are very calm and gentle by nature, making them easier to work with for individuals who are afraid of dogs.

Sadly, a guide or service dog can only provide their services for 8-12 years.The mini's can easily provide these services for 30-40 years, due to their longer lifespan. The cost of a guide dog can be up to $60,000 per dog. For a person that can only use a guide dog for 8-12 years, that is a replacement price of almost $200,000 for three dogs to one miniature horse in a 30 year period.

These horses are more widely accepted in public places, as they are not viewed as a "pet."

Horses have excellent vision, with their eyes on the sides of their heads they have a range of nearly 360 degrees, unlike a dog. With their independent eye movement, they are able to track potential danger with each eye and can also see clearly in almost complete darkness.

Minis are extremely clean animals and they can be housebroken! They do not get fleas and are happily content to be by themselves without the strong human affection needed by dogs.

How about a Parrot?

A parrot named Sadie helps Jim Eggers, a man who suffers from bipolar disorder by helping him control his severe anxiety and psychotic episodes. According to Mr. Eggers, she trained herself by watching him. When Mr. Eggers would have an episode at home, he would pace and walk around holding his head screaming, "It's Ok Jim!" One day Sadie started mimicking the saying when she saw him having a moment, immediately calming him down.

Due to his heavy dosage of medication, which leaves him in a "fog" state of mind, Sadie also provides other services, letting Mr. Eggers know when the water faucet is left running, the fire alarm is going off, or someone is knocking at the door.

Mr. Eggers was able to get Sadie certified as a "Service Animal" and never leaves home without her.

Is every animal going to be considered for a "Service Animal?"

Sadly, some people are taking advantage of trying to have an exotic pet as their service animal. According to the American Disability Act (ADA) it is illegal to ask for proof that a person is disabled or for demonstrations from their animal.

Mr. Eggers represents a person that is in need of an emotional support (psychiatric) which can make it more challenging for public places to determine between the real and the bogus of a service animal being used. The "service" of emotional support which cannot be seen in those instances makes public places weary of being taken advantage of under the ADA law.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has stepped in to provide new regulations, specifically excluding "wild animals (including nonhuman primates born in captivity), such as reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including miniature horses), pig, goat, ferrets, amphibians, snakes, and rodents." Arguments in favor of species restrictions come from public places worried about having to make alterations to accommodate these different exotic animals.

As more and more animals are being used to assist the disabled whether emotionally or physically, the laws will have to define between what is safe for others, and how a certain animal benefits a disabled person and their needs.

What do you think of allowing monkeys, miniature horses, or parrot as a different type of animal providing "service" needs?

Would you be comfortable if an alligator, rat, or snake was the animal providing the emotional support? Should they be allowed in public places?

Resources:

Monkey Helpers

Guide Horse

NY Times Article

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