Sunday, January 04, 2009

I Need ---Non-Human--- Help!


In "Creature Comforts" (the NYTimes mag, of course), Rebecca Skloot discusses all forms of comfort and service animals. There's a difference, and yup, Ducks make the cut. There are miniature guide horses for the blind, monkeys for quadriplegics, and an assistance parrot for a man with bipolar disorder who is subject to tempter outbursts.
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What qualifies as a service animal? .... Can any species be eligible?

There are two categories of animals that help people. “Therapy animals” (also known as “comfort animals”) have been used for decades in hospitals and homes for the elderly or disabled. Their job is essentially to be themselves — to let humans pet and play with them, which calms people, lowers their blood pressure and makes them feel better. There are also therapy horses, which people ride to help with balance and muscle building.

These animals are valuable, but they have no special legal rights because they aren’t considered service animals, the second category, which the A.D.A. defines as “any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items.”

Since the 1920s, when guide dogs first started working with blind World War I veterans, service animals have been trained to do everything from helping people balance on stairs to opening doors to calling 911. In the early ’80s, small capuchin monkeys started helping quadriplegics with basic day-to-day functions like eating and drinking, and there was no question about whether­ they counted as service animals. Things got more complicated in the ’90s, when “psychiatric service animals” started fetching pills and water, alerting owners to panic attacks and helping autistic children socialize.
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The article includes issues about disease transmission, especially forms of hepa
titis from monkeys, to issues of aggression, citing one service dog who killed another service dog on a bus. People, apparently, are not always comfortable seeing ducks walking down grocery store aisles (can someone explain that to me?)

The article concludes with:

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“Many people try to make this issue black and white — this service animal is good; that one is bad — but that’s not possible, because disability extends through an enormous realm of human behavior and anatomy and human condition,” Frieden told me. In the end, according to him, the important thing to remember is this: “The public used to be put off by the very sight of a person with a disability. That state of mind delayed productivity and caused irreparable harm to many people for decades. We’ve now said, by law, that regardless of their disability, people must have equal opportunity, and we can’t discriminate. In order to seek the opportunities and benefits they have as citizens, if a person needs a cane, they should be able to use one. If they need a wheelchair, a dog, a miniature horse or any other device or animal, society has to accept that, because those things are, in fact, part of that person.”