Unusual Service Animals: Miniature Horses, Monkeys, Snakes and Iguanas

You're probably pretty familiar with service dogs. But did you know that many other species are being used to help people with all kinds of disabilities and issues?

While the Americans with Disabilities Act only recognizes dogs and miniature horses as service animals, that doesn't stop these people in need from getting support from their preferred working animal.

Sophie: The Helper Monkey

The story of Judy Zappia and her service animal, a capuchin monkey named Sophie, will likely leave you with tears in your eyes. After leading a very active life Judy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and is now wheelchair bound. Her husband George is her full-time caregiver, but Judy needed help with day-to-day tasks like picking up the phone.

Judy lives in Vermont where monkeys are allowed to be trained as service animals under limited circumstances. She worked with Helping Hands, a non-profit organization in Boston that breeds and trains small capuchin monkeys to work as service animals for patients with limited mobility.

Redrock: A Seizure-Warning Snake

Daniel Greene depends on his 5-foot long boa constrictor Redrock who Greene believes helps him control his grand-mal seizures. Greene told The Seattle Times that Redrock alerts him to pending seizures by giving him a hug and the seizures return unchecked when Redrock is not draped around his neck — such as at night when the snake is in its cage.

Panda: A Clicker Trained Assistance Horse

Ann Edie, who has a visual impairment, uses a guide miniature horse named Panda. According to the New York Times, Edie has owned several service dogs but one of them didn't work out so well and Edie was dragged across lawns and into the street when the dog chased cats, squirrels and other dogs.

She's had better luck with Panda, she notes, because miniature horses are less aggressive. According to the Guide Horse Foundation, one of the benefits of miniature horses over guide dogs is that they can provide service longer. The average lifespan of a guide horse is 30-40 years, says the foundation, whereas guide dogs have a useful life between 8-12 years.


Skippy the Service Iguana

Cosmie Silfa relies on his iguana, Skippy, to help him stay clean and sober. Silfa carries around a letter from his psychiatrist stating that the lizard helps him to maintain a stable mood as she provides companionship and motivation for him to stay well as he struggles with depression and addiction.


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