The DOJ on Exotic Service Animals

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I’ve addressed the issue of companion/comfort animals a few times in this blog; mostly when they happen to come up in the news. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Basically it’s an animal that serves as a companion, one that doesn’t perform a specific task, like turning on the lights or picking stuff up off the ground. In most cases, the person in question has some kind of a mental disability, and they use the animal for comfort and reassurance. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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Monkey Business

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Apparently it’s emotional support animal week here at Barrier Free Travels, as now we have a service monkey in the news.

Debby Rose is suing the Springfield-Greene County Health Department because she alleges they lacked the authority to determine if her emotional support monkey qualifies as a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Continue reading

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Baaaaad Baaaaad Innkeeper!

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As you might imagine, I get a lot of reader feedback; but to be honest it?s hard to pass on any comment that mentions sheep. OK, it?s more than just sheep, it?s a service animal issue. And throw in an innkeeper with an attitude, and you have my undivided attention. Such was the case with Kristen, who merely wanted to get away with her husband to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary. Continue reading

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A Service Ferret?

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I received several e-mails about Sarah Sevick this week. Sarah is a student at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas. She’s majoring in public relations and has a psychiatric disability that causes her to have panic attacks in stressful public situations.

Granted I would probably rethink my major if I were Sarah, but apparently she’s decided to confront her problems head-on.

Sarah also has a service animal she wants keep in her dorm room and take to class with her. College officials have denied her request.

Why? Well, many people think it’s because Sarah’s service animal is a ferret.

That’s right, apparently her ferret (Lilly) nuzzles her and calms her down whenever she has a panic attack.

Now I’m not denying Sarah’s disability, but I do dispute her legal classification of Lilly as a service animal.

In fact, I contend the college has a right to boot the ferret. Why? Not because it’s a ferret, but because it’s not a service animal. In my humble opinion Lilly is an emotional support animal.

So what’s the difference? Well, one is protected under the ADA, while the other is not.

Now if Sarah were in a wheelchair and the ferret could pick up things and turn lights on and open doors for her (hey it’s possible), then the ferret would be a service animal. But in my book, nuzzling and cuddling really fall into that emotional support category.

On the other hand, emotional support animals are specifically mentioned in the ACAA, and (with proper documentation) are allowed on some airplanes. But we’re not talking about airplanes here, we are talking about a college campus.

To be honest, I really hate it when these things hit the press. No wonder people with legitimate service animals have credibility problems.

All it takes is one ferret to ruin it for everybody.

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Travel Tails

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This fall I traveled through Northern Ohio with a friend who has a service animal. Because she values her privacy I?ll just call her Barbara. Barbara uses a wheelchair and is accompanied everywhere she goes by her service animal Turbo.

I had a great time traveling with Barbara and Turbo, but I have to admit there were several things that amazed me. Mostly about how other people reacted to them.

First off I was amazed by the amount of attention they attracted. Perfect strangers would approach Barbara and gush over Turbo and tell Barbara how very cute he is. She of course would correct them and inform them that Turbo is a male and therefore he is handsome rather than cute.

Everybody seemed to recognize Turbo as a service animal (he was wearing a vest) and nobody denied us entry. This amazed me because we visited some pretty rural places. And nobody ever asked Barbara why she had a ?guide dog? if she wasn?t blind. So it appears we are moving ahead in the whole community education and disability awareness arena. That kind of amazed me, but in a happy way. I?m always happy about progress.

There was even one waiter who recognized Turbo as a service animal and told Barbara, ?I know we are not suppose to pet them, but they are just so cute.? Again I was amazed, as this employee had obviously undergone some disability awareness training. Let?s face it, 10 years ago there wasn?t a waiter alive who knew you were not suppose to pet a working dog. So perhaps all those disability awareness training sessions really *do* make a difference.

But the thing that really amazed me the most is that people with service animals are really roving ambassadors about disability issues. Barbara explained over and over again how Turbo helped her (to total strangers) and tirelessly answered the same questions about their life together. I don?t know if I could do that. Some days it might be OK, but some days I think I?d just want to go out and get a cup of coffee and just be left alone. But apparently that?s not the way it works when you have a service animal.

And I guess that?s why the community is better educated about service animal issues today; because of these very (very) patient roving ambassadors. Again I don?t know that I could do that, but I?m glad other people can. It has obviously made a big difference. And in the end the thing that is most amazing to me, is just how much of a difference once person (and one dog) can really make.

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