State lawmakers have said goodbye to ferrets, monkeys and other exotic animals as service animals and said hello to miniature horses.
The legislature redefined the term “service animal” to apply to only dogs and miniature horses. While many are used to seeing man’s best friend guiding people through restaurants and grocery stores, miniature horses leave many questioning their capabilities.
Ron Souza and his wife Joann have been raising miniature horses for the past 16 years and say the breed is just as capable as a dog.
"Service dogs and seeing eye dogs end up with a problem with their rear-legs going out because that's where they have their strongest point and their pulling point. A miniature horse is built so their rear portion is the strongest part of their body. That's why you see so many miniature horses pulling a cart or in this case it would be a wheelchair,” said Souza.
Although the Souza’s don’t own any service horses, the majority of their horses have helped with therapy in nursing homes. They say the love miniature horses bring is as good as a dog.
“They are very attuned to your feelings. They know when something is wrong, if you have a medical condition. They will lay their head in your lap to make you feel better,” said Joann Souza.
“Another great thing about minis is that they have a service period that’s close to twice as long as a dog. Many people don’t know, but these guys can live up to 29 years old. Dogs don’t have that capability,” said Souza.
Along with redefining what a service animal is, legislation also made clear the conditions a service dog or horse is allowed to be with a person in public places. Having them purely for comfort is not protected by law.
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