In the U.S. service animals have traditionally been dogs.
The history of service dogs began with the guide dog program, which trains dogs to guide the blind.
The web site for the first and still largest program in the country can be found here: http://www.seeingeye.org/
Under current federal law - the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - service dogs are
1) allowed anywhere a disabled person needs to go and
2) are dogs (more about point 2 in a moment.)
Except when the service dog is not a dog - the dog in some circumstances can instead be a service miniature horse.
Yes, that's right, out of all other possible, potential service animals, the only other one that is allowed under Federal Law to be given the same access to businesses, schools, restaurants etc. is a miniature horse. The horse does have to be house-trained and wear special shoes - so he doesn't scuff up floors - and generally weighs 100 pounds or under.
Miniature horses are preferred for certain types of service for several reasons:
- They have a significantly longer lifespan than does a dog
- They may be more effective for people with disabilities which affect the person's balance
- People with allergies to dogs may not have horse allergies
- A miniature horse has a much longer working life than a dog; a dog might be able to comfortably work for six or seven years following training, a horse can potentially work 20+ years.
Legislation has a different standard for therapy animals, which while they may be allowed in housing where a disabled person lives, are not given the same legal access outside a disabled person's home that a service animal is given.
I'm wondering though, now that miniature horses have their hooves in the door so to speak, how much longer before they start gently shouldering canine companions out of the way altogether? Are miniature horses positioning themselves, perhaps, to become the new version of 'man's best friend'?
How much longer before miniature horses try hoofing over Dalmatians as the preferred companion for fire houses? Then we begin the long, slippery slope into miniature horse herds guarding warehouses, trampling invaders just as their Hollywood predecessors used to stampede cowboys in the Western movies of yesteryear...and displacing the longstanding strong hold of 'guard dog duty' that canines have previously held a monopoly on.
Miniature horses will then try nosing the Labrador, Beagle, Shepherds etc. out of work sniffing for smuggled goods in baggage and illicit materials in vehicles crossing the boarder.
Yes, it may just be a matter of time - one morning you're going to wake up and find that your loving Fido has been replaced by a four legged friend of a different variety. And when that day comes, remember we warned you of it here first.
P.S. - Did you know that dogs are sometimes available for adoption after retiring from service, or after they begin service dog training but are in some small way not suitable to enter service life? Did you know that volunteers help raise many guide dogs for the first year of their lives, assisting them to prepare for being good canine citizens?
Did you know you, or an organization that you volunteer with, can sponsor a guide dog in training?
Food for thought as we help support our canine friends in their battle to not be replaced by horses....