Is This Horse Really a Service Animal?

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At this point in my life, I’m pretty used to getting e-mails and reading articles about what I’m going to call “non-traditional” service animals; which I loosely define as anything beyond a dog. And yes I know that both monkeys and miniature horses are legally recognized as service animals, but they are still a little beyond the norm. And I still get letters about them.

But this post is about a horse of a different color, so to speak. A “riding-size” horse (Trixie) that is being used as a service animal by her legally blind owner (Tabitha) in Fort Worth.

When I first read the ABC news article about the pair, I wrongly assumed that Tabitha was using Trixie to guide her, like a miniature horse or a dog. But then I saw the video. Tabitha was actually riding Trixie — around town, through the Dairy Queen drive-through and in the supermarket. Yes, I said in the supermarket.

To be honest, I was at a loss for words, especially about the supermarket incident. But the folks who commented on the article sure weren’t. Most of the comments addressed the obvious problems with this situation, while a few defended Tabitha & Trixie. And then there’s my personal favorite — “whoa! clean-up in aisle 3”.

But does Trixie really qualify as a service animal? Although she may squeak in under the current regulations, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking to change that. Currently the ADA defines a service animal as any “guide dog, signal dog or other animal.” That’s a pretty broad definition; so the DOJ is trying to narrow it down a bit, by adding the following text to the law:

“A service animal does not include wild animals (including nonhuman primates born in captivity), reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (include any breed of horse, pony, miniature horse, pig and goat), ferrets, amphibians and rodents.”

And…

“Animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or promote emotional well-being are not service animals.”

So, it appears Trixie’s days in the A&P may be numbered.

However I have to add, the ADA revision isn’t exactly a done deal. Although the final regulations have not been released to the public; one journalist, (who reportedly saw a leaked copy), claims the new law limits the definition of “service animals” to only dogs. Submitted to the OMB for final approval in October 2008, the DOJ withdrew the revised regulations in January 2009 for internal review, per order of the new administration.

So, suffice it to say, the timeline on the revision is pretty indefinite.

Personally I think the “species limitation” amendment is a good idea; and I hope things get back on track soon. Sure, I understand that some people can’t or don’t want to use a dog as a service animal; but let’s be honest, we have to draw the line somewhere.

Otherwise we end up with horses in supermarkets.

And that can’t be a good thing on any level.

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