More Follow Up on NYT Story About Assistance Creatures

i-a19ac2f1434dd23155fa8216df869c1b-Debby and Richard Driving.jpg
Debby has a restriction on her license that says she can't operate a car without her assistance monkey present
In 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-d371795580e2b184c31354e8a90ee3c2-Panda Fetch small.jpg

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."

i-aa06d2b3574d4827c7e4fd7af96298df-Panda in Cafe small.jpg

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 ...

More like this

Wow, that's fascinating! I'd heard about guide-horses before, but not monkeys, do you know what species of monkey is usually used?

I remember once (a while ago now) watching a documentary about training guide horses, the most interesting one was teaching them to be aware of things that a person (i.e something several times their hight) could potentially bump into and stopping the person before they did. Essentially a wonderful experiment showing that not only was the horse aware of other things around it, it was aware that other things would also be aware, and from a different point of reference.

Thanks for sharing =D

That overhead obstacle experiment is a great example of how using a herd animal like a mini-horses is very handy for guiding -- they're aware of other creatures in ways that dogs often aren't. There's actually a video of Panda the guide horse going through overhead obstacles training here.

The most common species for assistance monkeys is the Capuchin by far. They're the ones trained by Helping Hands to work with quadriplegics. The more controversial ones are service chimps and macaques, like Richard pictured above. But those are rarely used for service.

I have a severe disability, and while I don't have a service animal, I still thank you so much for writing this article (and doing such a good job on it.)

The attitude you see here, where people are just itching to disallow service animals for completely trivial reasons (as if the stuff they claim is the reason are the real ones.) like a dislike or suspicion of animals applies very much to other accommodations for disabilities.

For example, I recently made a request that my landlord not access my attic to upgrade the insulation (to save just a couple of bucks on heating) because of the dust it would release, which would seriously aggravate my health problem. I would probably have to move very fast, all at my own expense, and try to get out of this lease somehow, pronto.

He refused! He only gave me a 2 days notice that we was going to go into the attic too! It would have cost him nothing to cancel the appointment (this was just for the preliminary inspection and getting quotes for the work.) I was in a really tight spot. I had to refuse access to the apartment. He called the police! Two cops showed up and tried to talk ME out of disallowing access! Technically he could try to evict me now, for refusing access.

But so what? I knew he could do that. But I would have had to move anyway. So I made the right move. At least this gives me some time.

Actually he didn't try to evict me, though, because I could sue him for his misconduct with refusing to accommodate my disability like that. (if it doesn't cost the landlord anything, they *have* to provide the accommodation. It wouldn't have cost him a dime.)

Still, it shows the attitude.

Paul! I'm glad you posted the link to the service kangaroo. I'd hoped to include that one in the story, but neither I nor the factcheckers at the New York Times were able to verify that it's used as a service kangaroo because we couldn't reach its owners. Too bad!

I do not use a service animal, but I live with 7 dogs, most of whom have been trained to do various service tasks, just because if I ever need it, then it is started.

I am also a horse owner/trainer/handler and have followed Alex, Ann and Panda over the years. Alex is an *outstanding* trainer, all of Pandas training has been with the clicker.

For those wondering about spooking, Alex chose Panda very carefully, noting size as well as temperament. She declined several minis for various reasons, before she found Panda. One was going to be over the height she was looking for and another was too young with too much energy to make a good service animal.

Just like with dogs, people who use service minis must evaluate the individual animal for suitability. They also need to do continual refresher training. Unlike dogs, horses have a visual advantage in how their eyes are placed and how they are built, giving them a wider range of vision to the side as well as further behind them. They have a "visual streak" rather than a fovea structure internally giving them an elongated band of acute vision. Thus they can see more clearly around them, which might be why Panda notices things that dogs miss.

Reading this after reading a social experiment conducted by The Washington Post regarding what people notice or see in their immediate environment is very curious. In both instances, it was the children who noticed and wanted to explore the musician and the mini horse, where the adults tended to either ignore or not even see the musician.…