Dogs have been providing assistance to people with different types of disabilities for decades. The first guide dogs for the blind were trained in Germany to help soldiers who lost their sight during World War I. In the U.S., The Seeing Eye began training guide dogs in 1929.
But did you know that there are many other animals that have been trained as service and assistance animals? Some of them may surprise you.
Sure, they’re adorable, but miniature horses can also be trained to become guide horses for the blind. They can be a good alternative to guide dogs for people with allergies. Advocates of guide horses report that miniature horses make excellent service animals for many reasons. They are calm, focused, and safety-conscious; have good vision and memory; have a long lifespan; and horses are known to care for other horses that go blind in the herd.
Capuchin monkeys have been performing important functions for people with paralysis and other mobility impairments for many years. The main benefit of service monkeys is their great manual dexterity. They can do things that no other type of animal can do, such as turning the pages of a book, pushing buttons on computers and remote controls, and picking up all kinds of objects. Their intelligence, long life span, small size, and sense of social hierarchy make monkeys particularly useful service animals.
Ferrets have been used successfully as service animals for individuals with anxiety and stress related disorders. Ferrets have many qualities that make them well-suited for this purpose. They are quiet, attentive, litter trained, and enjoy being held close. Ferrets can even be trained as seizure alert animals. They may not get the same recognition as service dogs, but to the people that rely on them for comfort, they are just as valuable.
Like ferrets, parrots make excellent emotional support animals. One African Grey parrot named Sadie helps a man with bipolar disorder manage his mood swings. She even says “calm down” when she senses he is getting agitated. Birds are also used successfully in animal assisted therapy programs. Advocates report seeing previously silent nursing home patients begin speaking when a bird is brought to them. Veterans with PTSD who began to work at a parrot sanctuary caring for abused and traumatized birds have also shown improvement.
*Guide horse photo courtesy of The Guide Horse Foundation.
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