Thursday, February 9, 2017
Paul Harpur's (Queensland) has been working recently on a cross-disciplinary project analysing the regulation of disability assistance animals/service animals in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the UK, and the U.S. Yesterday, he was interviewed on Australia's Channel 10. Though apparently the segment can't be viewed outside Australia, here's an excerpt from the interview.
What do a bird, a miniature horse, a cat and pig have in common with a guide dog? They’re all legal assistance animals…and it’s causing a headache for authorities.
Aged 11 years old and weighing in at around a kilo, Tiberius is a blue and gold Macaw and is much more than an exotic pet.
He is a lifeline for Alicia, who suffers complications from a chronic pain condition. "[Tiberius's] job is to monitor my heart and pain condition and warn me of incoming attacks."
Tiberius monitors her pulse for changes and Alicia says she can’t live without him. Twice, he has saved her life of an actual heart attack. “I was on the phone saying I’m going to have a heart attack. My service animal has sensed it and warned me. I got laughed at.”
As well as mockery, Alicia has had to contend with outright hostility from people not used to seeing a working disability parrot. “I’ve been escorted out, I’ve been demanded out, I’ve had people swearing at me, spit coming off them.”
While local and state laws prevent non-canines like Tiberius being used as assistance animals, federal laws don’t: and people are starting to cotton on .
When the act was passed in 1992 it used the term “disability assistance animals” and it’s always used the term “animals”. Back in the day 99% of animals were dogs so no one’s really noticed it. But with the growth of animal assisted therapy there is an increase in people wanting to bring other animals into public spaces.
And Federal laws also lack the strict training standard found in state laws. Individuals can train their own animals and associations that have nothing to do with disability can train animals. It’s a mess.
Professor Paul Harpur, who relies on a seeing eye dog, has studied the trend towards non-canines. He worries people are fraudulently claiming their pets as disability assistance animals.
It’s already a big issue in US: with turkeys, ducks, kangaroos and pigs turning up on planes and restaurants as “emotional support animals”. Transport authorities here [in Australia] have had to contend with a miniature horse approved for travel on Melbourne’s trams; as well as an assistance dingo, a “stress rabbit”, plus assistance cats, rats, birds and pigs.