Debby has a restriction on her license that says she can’t operate a car without her assistance monkey presentIn the coming days, I’ll continue posting follow ups to my story, Creature Comforts, which is running in tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine. Since yesterday’s follow up post, and my interview on NPR’s Day-to-Day, I’ve gotten many emails from readers with questions. I answered some of them in the comments thread of yesterday’s post (which you should check out if you haven’t seen it — fun photos! video footage of Panda the guide horse!). Below I’ve tackled a few common questions, plus posted more photos and videos for your viewing pleasure (Panda the guide horse fetching things for her owner and lunching in a cafe; assistance monkey videos, and more), as well as some interesting information not included in the original story because of space constraints.
First, the poop question: Many people have asked, Don’t guide horses just poop everywhere? The answer: Nope. Horses are 100% house trainable. In fact, their natural instinct is to go in one designated place. Alex Kurland trained Panda to go on command before entering a business or a house (Panda sometimes has to think about it for a while — she snorts, twitches her tail — eventually it just happens). If she has to go while she’s in the house, she rings a small bell hanging from a closet door so Ann knows to take her to her stall, where she relieves herself on a tidy pile of cedar chips in a corner.
Another interesting Panda fact: She fetches just like a guide dog. If Ann drops her phone or her keys, Panda picks them up and hands them to her. When it’s time to go outside, Panda gives Ann her leash. When Panda’s off duty, she loves fetching her bright pink Frisbee (and she will keep it up as long as the most obsessed Laborador). See below:
I’ve gotten several emails asking how people react to Sadie and Panda when they’re out in public. Because she’s in Jim’s backpack, people often don’t notice Sadie (until she talks or squawks), but when they do, they think she’s great. The same is true with Panda: I ate lunch with Ann and Alex in a small local cafe while Panda stood beside the table (see photo below). By the time we finished eating, about twenty people had come in and out of that cafe — several sat at tables just inches from Panda. Only one customer noticed there was a horse in the room: A little girl, whose face was eye level with Panda’s (she just stared and whispered, “There’s a pony”). No one else noticed Panda until she let out a loud unmistakable horse snort when we headed for the door. Then everyone looked, said a few ohs and ahs, and went back to their lunches. Ann’s philosophy: “The trick is, just act like everybody walks around with a little fuzzy horse, then the whole thing seems completely normal.”
Several people have asked how Jim’s case is going, and whether he was able to get Sadie the parrot approved as a service animal. The answer: Nothing has changed since I wrote the story. He continues to attend hearings and argue Sadie’s case. There has also been no change in the status of the Department of Justice’s proposed species ban. I will post updates about both of those, as well as the Debby Rose’s case, as soon as they’re available.
Here is a video of Debby Rose with Richard, the assistance monkey who helps with her agoraphobia. For those who’ve requested for more information about capuchin monkeys trained to work with quadriplegics: They’re amazing to watch in action, so I’ll let them speak for themselves:
In a piece of tangentially related news, there’s a great story on the cover of the current issue of Sports Illustrated called, “What Happened to Michael Vick’s Dogs.” They were rescued from Vick’s dogfighting ring 20 months ago — they’re recovering well, and several of them are being trained as therapy dogs.
Coming soon, links to interesting non-canine service animal legal cases …