When the Americans With Disabilities Act became law in 1990, it defined service animals quite simply: as dogs. But today, not all support animals have four legs and wagging tails. (Evidenced recently by a passenger trying to bring a support peacock onto a flight.) Whether they’re using a paw, hoof, or flipper, therapy animals help people out in a variety of unexpected ways.

At Your Service

Support animals come in all shapes, sizes, and species.

When the Americans With Disabilities Act became law in 1990, it defined service animals quite simply: as dogs. But today, not all support animals have four legs and wagging tails. (Evidenced recently by a passenger trying to bring a support peacock onto a flight.) Whether they’re using a paw, hoof, or flipper, therapy animals help people out in a variety of unexpected ways. Reptiles to the Rescue MCT/MCT via Getty Images Reptiles to the Rescue They’re more slimy than furry, more scaly than cuddly, but reptiles still make for excellent service animals thanks to their unique ability to adapt to temperature changes. People living with epilepsy, like Washington state native Daniel Greene, pictured above, can train domesticated boa constrictors to squeeze parts of their body when they detect an increase in body temperature or blood pressure, signs indicating an oncoming seizure. Pint-sized Heroes SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images Pint-sized Heroes “Pocket pets” like guinea pigs, hamsters, and rabbits help kids with autism develop socialization skills. Research shows that children with emotional issues form bonds with animals more easily than people, which makes these cuddly rodents (including Moustique, a guinea pig pictured at work in eastern France) excel as therapy animals. Huggable Hogs Craig F. Walker/Denver Post via Getty Images Huggable Hogs Potbelly pigs provide emotional support for people staying in hospitals, living in nursing homes, and even traveling through airports. During therapy sessions, these extremely intelligent animals ease panic attacks and comfort people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Monkey Business MICKE Sebastien/Paris Match via Getty Images Monkey Business Nonprofit organizations like Helping Hands in Boston train capuchin monkeys to assist people with spinal cord injuries or other mobility impairments. Unlike therapy dogs, monkeys — with their opposable thumbs — can turn on lights, scratch itches, and even reposition limbs on a wheelchair. With a life expectancy of up to 40 years, capuchins can spend decades working with their owners. Helping Hooves Elizabeth W. Kearley/flickr Editorial/Getty Images Helping Hooves Miniature horses and ponies deliver much-needed stress relief and smiles to people suffering from emotional disorders and physical disabilities. Organizations like Gentle Carousel in northern Florida bring mini-horse therapy to more than 45,000 people residing in hospices and assisted living facilities. Porpoises With Purpose Artyom Korotaeyv/TASS via Getty Images Porpoises With Purpose Not all service animals work with people on land. Swimming with dolphins allows children with special needs to practice and enhance physical coordination. Therapy dolphins also receive special training to perform tricks and pull patients along with them in the water in order to boost patients’ moods and improve socialization skills.
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