Therapy Animals: How Much Is Too Much?

There have been a lot of news stories about service/therapeutic animals in the news of late. There was one about a woman who was living in a building that had a no dog rule but who felt that her dog was therapy for her panic attacks (and was suing because her condo board wanted her to keep the dog in a carrier when in common areas). This weekend I came across this: a story about a woman and a kangaroo.

Supposedly, according to her vet, the animal won’t get bigger than 50 pounds but that’s not exactly small. And this is a wild, not a domesticated, animal. Also if it has as many issues as it does–partial paralysis, wears diapers–it almost doesn’t seem worth keeping the animal alive. (Plus, I don’t think I’d be cool with an incontinent wild animal being taken to public places if I were the general public…which I am!) I’m not sure how I feel about therapy animals in general but this kangaroo situation seems like a terrible idea.

So my questions for debate are: should we draw the line somewhere when it comes to therapeutic animals? Should people be required to show some proof that they really need this animal? And specifically, is letting the woman keep this kangaroo a good idea?

I think helper animals must have a clear PHYSICAL use.

Umm…I assume they do. According to your article, the kangaroo was certified as a therapeutic pet by the womans therapist, which apparently is the proof required by the ADA.

As to where the line should be drawn, I think its pretty obvious that a therapeutic animal that is a public safety hazard shouldn’t be allowed (and according to this pdf, thats apparently the case. A landlord can refuse to accomidate a threatening helper animal).

The question here seems to be whether or not the kangaroo is such a danger. Not being an expert in injured kangaroos, I can’t really say. The vet quoted in the article seems to think its unlikely, so lacking my own expertize I’d go with hers. But in anycase, it sounds like the rational thing to do is allow it for now (as a 25 pound gimp-kangaroo seems pretty nonthreatening), and then revisit the case when the animal has had a chance to grow/heal.

People walk dogs in public places, and they seem pretty content to go wherever the mood strikes them. And unlike the kangaroo, they don’t wear diapers (and depending on the moral character of their owners, often don’t get cleaned up after either).

But dogs go outside. This kangaroo would just be crapping itself in public, albeit in a diaper. Which, granted, babies do, too, but I don’t trust a kangaroo not to try to remove its diaper or do something similarly disgusting.

I disagree with Markxxx - Mental/emotional conditions are just as real as physical conditions. And some handicapped people are extremely isolated - the presence of what most of us would term simply a pet is valuable to their emotional well being.

However, I am troubled by the trend toward more and more exotic animals being kept by humans. Certain animals have been domesticated for thousands of years to live with humans - dogs, cats. While taking an ostensibly wild animal out of the wild and into a human home is, IMHO, both ignorant and arrogant. The oft cited statistic of more tigers living in homes in Texas than in the wild…

Also, I am somewhat skeptical of the therapists signing off on this. Are these people trained in animal husbandry for exotic wild animals?

Finally, the case of the women with the dog in the no dog condo - it’s the rules, you can live somewhere else that doesn’t have those rules.

As of March, I believe, 15, Federal regulations were revised to define a Service Animal under the ADA as a dog trained to do tasks or work (with all animals, including dogs, who merely provide “emotional support” or “comfort” specifically excluded). Dogs trained to do tasks relating to emotional/psychiatric disabilities are included.

Under the regs, a housebroken miniature horse should be accomodated within reason if it is trained to do particular tasks, but is not a “service animal” under the ADA.

No animal that is not a dog is considered a Service Animal as defined by the ADA, regardless of training. No animal that is not a dog or a qualifying mini horse needs to be accomodated under the ADA.

Individual states or municipalities are free to carry their own definitions of “Service Animal” but these are the definitions for purposes of the Federal law.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is also a “rule”.

A rule that excludes kangaroos.

There’s a much shorter word for “psychological therapy animal”: That’s what most folks call a “pet”. If you’re in a context where a pet of that sort wouldn’t be allowed, then neither is a “therapy animal”.

Icarus was discussing dogs.

Interesting, a quick google search shows that the ADA trumps individual “no pet” rules.

According to the DOJ, the change in definitions doesn’t affect the Fair Housing Acts requirement that reasonable accommodation be made for emotional support animals. Its the second link in the pdf I linked to earlier (sorry, I can’t paste the url here for some reason).

So it appears the landlord must allow the kangaroo so long as it can be reasonably accommodated

I think its the Fair Housing Act that trumps no pet rules for emotional support animals, actually. Same idea though.

Sorry, you’re right. I got distracted.

Housing is more complicated, as it also involves the Fair Housing Act. The new ADA definitions do not affect the FHA. Generally, under the Fair Housing Act, if a person has a prescription for an assistive animal from a medical professional, and makes the landlord aware of their disability and medical need for the animal, they are supposed to be accomodated unless there is an undue burden by allowing the proposed accomodation.

Generally, an exception to a “no pets policy” is considered a reasonable accomodation. But because it is a test of “reasonableness” there could be cases where it was not. And that assumes there is a medically provable need for an assistive animal.

I’m fine with therapy animals, and I’ve seen the effect the right one has on people. I’m not fine with calling any random dog, cat or gerbil a therapy animal and trying to get it allowed in public areas without any training. We’ve raised four guide dog puppies, and brought them everywhere, and getting them to be ready to go out to restaurants and the like takes a lot of training, and lots of dogs don’t make it, even though they are the descendants of generations of dogs picked for exactly this. Blind people don’t take their pet dogs in and ask that they get made into guides - they get assigned dogs who have made it through 2 years of training, and then train more with them. A therapy dog won’t need this much training, but guide dogs get taught to relieve on command. I bet the average therapy dog can’t do this - not to mention therapy kangaroos.

I think that’s a good point, Voyager. The problem I have is when people’s argument seems to be that they really, really need the animal, or it makes them feel good. But the animal isn’t objectively doing anything the way a guide dog is. And it isn’t really held to any higher standard beyond that of the average pet.

I am reminded of this story about flying pigs, which is too much for me.

Right, Voyager, I’m not referring to things like guide dogs, who do something objective, clear, and difficult-- That comment was restricted to psychological therapy animals. I mean, ultimately, if you ask any pet owner why they keep a pet, the answer is usually going to ultimately come down to something like “it makes me feel better to have an animal around the house”. Which is basically the same thing that a psychological therapy animal does. By contrast, if you ask a blind person why they have a seeing-eye dog, you might get an answer more like “he lets me know when it’s safe to cross the street”.

Yea, but most pet owners aren’t depressed. Making them feel better isn’t a medical issue. Making depressed people feel better is.

Is an SSRI “not objectively doing anything?”

The scales they use to determine the effectiveness of therapy animals is the same one they use to measure the effectiveness of an SSRI. It is a proven effective way of treating some forms of mental illness, and it is just as “real” as medication or other therapy.

Anyway, unless there is evidence of widespread abuse that begins to affect me personally, I really don’t see why I’d worry about it.