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Pigs are incredibly intelligent and sensitive animals which can make them candidates for therapy animals or emotional support animals. By definition these are two very different jobs.
Pig owners often choose to share their pig with their community schools and nursing homes. Spreading smiles and laughter with fundraisers and events centered around their pigs.
Pigs have been recognized by families of children with autism to help with vocalization and calming. Pigs have been known to detect low blood sugar in their owners with diabetes or detect and warn of oncoming seizures. They can ease anxiety and panic attacks and improve the symptoms of depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in some individuals. This does not mean that a pig can legally be considered a service animal.
It is important to know the differences between a Therapy Animal, Emotional Support Animal and a Service Animal and what that means for you and your pig if you decide to share your pig as a therapy pet or you suffer from a disability or mental illness and hope to have your pig recognized as an ESA or therapy pet.
A therapy animal is a privately owned animal that is in no way governed by any state or federal law. They can be any type of animal, contracted by 501c3 therapy organizations, they can visit schools, hospitals, nursing homes, libraries as volunteers providing therapy to others through with comfort, affection and attention. They are not granted any rights. They can have no special access, except in those facilities or businesses when invited. They cannot enter businesses or buildings with a no pet rule and they cannot ride in the cabin of an airplane regardless of their therapy animal designation. They do require specific training. They can be certified as a therapy pet and must be certified for hospital access. Pet Partners is a nationwide organization that legitimately tests and certifies pigs and other animals as therapy animals. Their certifying organization also carries insurance on the animal and the handler.
The American Mini Pig Association offers a therapy pet certification program. The AMPA training course information can be found here.
An emotional support animal provides comfort, companionship, and therapeutic support, to a person with mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. These animals are not registered, certified, licensed or insured. To claim an animal as an Emotional Support Animal a letter must be obtained from a mental health professional prescribing the person an ESA. An emotional support animal requires no specific training and they have no rights outside of the home. Emotional Support Animals are not granted public access rights as they are not protected under the ADA Americans with Disabilities Act. However through the Fair Housing Act they are allowed reasonable accommodations in pet free housing and travel if you can prove the pig is required as an ESA over the traditional dog or cat. City and county government or landlord/land owner may deny those rights.
Service animals are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Service animals are considered working animals and not pets. They are permitted in accordance with the ADA to accompany a person with a disability almost anywhere that the general public is allowed including businesses, restaurants, and airplanes. Service animals must be trained, in good health, well groomed, and may not disrupt the normal course of a business while accompanying the individual they serve. Examples of a service animal duties are guiding the blind, alerting people who are deaf, aiding wheel chair bound. Only service dogs and mini horses are recognized and protected under federal law and are granted additional rights outside of the job.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: WHAT IS A SERVICE ANIMAL?
A: Service animals are LEGALLY DEFINED as a dog or miniature horse that is specially trained to perform tasks or work that directly mitigates the disabilities of its handicapped handler. They are specially trained to behave in public, and have full access rights to all public areas. Training a service animal is a very long and very difficult process. Generally, it takes 18 months-2 years to train a service animal. SOURCE: http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.pdf
Q: CAN PIGS BE SERVICE ANIMALS?
A: Under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (The federal law which governs the use of service animals) No, sadly pigs cannot be recognized as service animals. Only dogs and mini horses (which are used in certain guide programs as well as mobility programs) are recognized as service animals. There are a few states which DO allow other animals to work as service animals (California is one). However, those animals are only granted state recognition and access, and are not protected by federal law. SOURCE: http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm
Q: WHAT ABOUT AN EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL? ISN’T THAT A SERVICE ANIMAL?
A: No, an emotional support animal is not the same as a service animal. An ESA, while a valuable working animal, is not federally recognized under the ADA and the owner of an ESA is not granted public access rights or federal protection against discrimination as a disabled person. An ESA is a generally untrained animal that provides personal therapy and comfort to a person with a diagnosed medical condition. A licensed physician, therapist or psychiatrist needs to write a letter of recommendation stating that the person needs said animal with them in their home, or during travel on public transportation. Again- the ADA does not define or protect ESAs. ESAs fall under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). SOURCES (and information on steps to receive an ESA, flying with an ESA, and housing an ESA)
Q: CAN PIGS BE EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS?
A: This is a tricky question. The short answer is, sometimes, yes. The problem lies with the “Request for Reasonable Accommodation” step. You and your physician will have to document and explain exactly why you need a pig, and not a “traditional” animal species. Unfortunately, people have tried for a very long time to use the ESA title to skirt local exotic animal ordinances. Because of this, an exotic animal may not be considered a “reasonable” accommodation. You may be granted the rights to an ESA, but not a pig. This is to prevent people from suddenly declaring something like a tiger as their Emotional Support Animal. Unfortunately, because pigs are generally considered livestock, they are often denied accommodation as an ESA. The bottom line is it will be up to whomever you are writing the request letter to. The exact part of the HUD memo retaining to ESA species is as follows: “[u]nder the FHAct, an individual with a disability may have the right to have an animal other than a dog in his or her home if the animal qualifies as a ‘reasonable accommodation’ that is necessary to afford the individual equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, assuming that the animal does not pose a direct threat.”2 Memo defining ESA —-> http://servicedogcentral.org/content/files/HUD%20FHEO%20Memo%202-17-2011%20Service%20Animal%20Memo%20(accessible)_0.pdf
Q: WHAT ABOUT A THERAPY ANIMAL?
A: A therapy animal is not granted any reasonable accommodation or public access. A therapy animal is an animal that travels to hospitals and nursing homes or schools, etc, to provide comfort and therapy to other people. They are often registered and insured through exterior organizations. They are not federally recognized as an assistance animal. A pig can be a therapy animal through a multitude of different organizations. Differences between Therapy, Emotional Support, and Service animal —-> http://pleasedontpetme.com/differences.php
Q: THIS SOUNDS SUPER COMPLICATED. I FOUND A SITE THAT SAYS THEY WILL REGISTER MY PIG AS AN ESA/SERVICE ANIMAL AND WILL SEND ME PAPERWORK AND AN ID!
A: Yes, these sites exist. These sites are also skirting the law, and are fake registries. They will register absolutely anything for money. For example, I have just registered a stuffed pig with the largest of the registries. You can look it up here: https://www.usservicedogregistry.org/index.php and use the code: 1411092670 to view the pig. Because of the Medical Information Privacy Act, service dogs and service dog handles are NOT REQUIRED to register or be certified. There are NO legally recognized registries or certifications available to service dogs or their handlers. It is not legal for a gatekeeper to ask for paperwork, or IDs. It would be similar to asking for a person in a wheelchair to prove they need their wheelchair. A gatekeeper is allowed to ask these questions: 1) Is this a service dog? 2) Do you require this dog for a disability? 3) What tasks or work does this dog perform? Any dog not performing under the guidelines of the ADA may be asked to leave by the owner/workers of the establishment. There are no registries for an ESA either. There are no paperwork or IDs required. However, unlike a service animal, you ARE required to provide a doctor’s note for an ESA. SOURCES and information on ESAs and fake credentials: http://servicedogcentral.org/content/fake-service-dog-credentials
PLEASE DO NOT PURCHASE FAKE PAPERWORK AND IDs FROM A SCAM REGISTRY. These sites make things incredibly difficult for people following the law. YES, it does make things easier for the individual using the registry because they have official looking paperwork and ID that they can flash. HOWEVER, the next person that comes along who legitimately needs their service animal or ESA may be denied or hassled because they do NOT have the same paperwork. Because you have now convinced that particular gatekeeper or landlord or hotel manager or flight personal that SD/ESAs have IDs, you have just opened a huge can of worms for everyone else that comes after you. This is a HUGE problem in the service dog and ESA world.
PLEASE DO NOT BE A PART OF IT, EVEN IF YOU HAVE A LEGITIMATE NEED FOR A SERVICE ANIMAL OR AN ESA.
Q: BUT WHATS THE BIG DEAL IF I JUST BUY THE PAPERWORK? I LOVE MY PIG AND I WANT TO KEEP HIM WITH ME, I DON’T REALLY NEED AN ESA BUT IT’S NOT FAIR THAT I DON’T GET TO KEEP HIM HERE WITH ME!
A: You are right. It isn’t fair that you are not able to keep a beloved pet in your home. I am truly sorry. And I wish I could say something that will make it all better. HOWEVER, it is a FEDERAL CRIME to fake a service animal. If you are caught, and taken before a judge, you could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars, you could lose all social security and disability benefits, and you could even serve jail time. And you WILL LOSE YOUR PET. Not only that, but it is a HUGE slap in the face to people who legitimately use service animals and ESAs. The people who use these animals NEED THESE ANIMALS. They are not breaking the law. They are not “lucky” that they get to keep/take their animals in public when you don’t (Seriously, I would gladly trade my service dog who I love more than you could possibly imagine, to not have my physical and mental disabilities and to lead a normal life. We are no “luckier” than people who “get to” use wheelchairs and disabled parking spaces. If it were possible for me to go to the store and get a gallon of milk without spending an hour getting my dog in his gear and dressed for public access and being stopped and asked a thousand questions by every bystander, I would. I would in a second. ) Lying and saying your animal is an ESA when it is not is not only illegal, it is INCREDIBLY immoral and is leading to such a huge problem right now that disabled people may lose the rights they have fought for decades to have. Is it really worth it?
Q: SO THEN WHAT CAN I DO TO KEEP MY PIG WITH ME IF HE IS ILLEGAL?
A: I am genuinely sorry that I do not have a magic answer for you. You will have to fight the law. Many are doing so. Make sure you are always doing your research to determine your pets legal status before moving to a new home, or bringing home a pet. Consider moving if possible. Breaking the law is not the answer, even if you do not agree with the law. No one person, or one animal, is above the law. If you do not like the laws, your only action is to fight to change them. Thank you for reading, and I hope this has helped resolve some of your concerns.
ESA and City Ordinance: http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/pubs/548301.pdf ESA info for people with disabilities, says owners must ensure their emotional support animal complies with city and state animal control laws. You can get use ESAS to get a landlord to approve you to move in, that doesn’t mean you can have pigs in a city that doesn’t allow it. ESA doesn’t automatically override zoning ordinances.
Hoof Prints Heal
One Therapy Pig’s Story
My name is Rebecca DiNolfi , most of you know me as Becky the zoning consultant or Reggie’s Mom.. I like Reggie’s Mom the best, that name is the one that took Reggie and me to higher places and inspired me to do what we as a team did best for many years. Animal Assisted Therapy was and still is one of the most amazing things that I am proud to say I was a part of for many years. In that time I found that doing AA Therapy work with a potbellied pig was over the top as far as the healing benefits are concerned not only for the patients we visited but, also for myself as well. I also learned that the potbellied pig was very suited for this job mostly because they were so intelligent and so darn cute and they really loved the attention they got and the treats of course were fitting pay for a job well done. I always say that what a dog or cat can’t do a pig will do just right. It is an amazing thing to see a pig walking down a hall on a leash wearing a hat and flower neck band wagging their tail excitedly. You have to admit it really isn’t something you see every day..That is the very thing that makes it so special.. I am honored to be writing this article about one of the most famous potbellied pigs who ever did Animal Assisted Therapy work. She was my pig and I am so proud of the work we did in that field for over 14 years.
From Oct of 1993 until July of 2007 Reggie was a bigger than life advocate for the pet Potbellied pig as a companion animal and therapy pet partner. She did countless hours of community service, and therapy work. She was also up front, and present in many zoning cases. She was a good will ambassador for all pigs, and their families. She brought smiles to many sad faces. She helped many children, and adults alike have something special to talk about. She was able to turn the tables on the myth that pigs are dirty and stinky animals that only deserve to be served with mashed potatoes and gravy. She was happy, and proud to be who she was, and do what she did. When she went out in public she always had to have her swine finery on. Something pretty around her neck or a special hat to adorn her little round Yoda head.
She had many honors awarded to her over the years. In May 1997 she was honored to be picked by Life Magazine as one of their Heroes in their special Hero Edition. She was there as big as life itself right along with Abe Lincoln, and Mother Teresa, John Wayne, and Colon Powell. My Reggie girl made it to the big time.
That year she got Honorable Mention from the Delta Society for her services as a therapy pet partner. She was also honored by Tommy Tomlinson, Representative of Pennsylvania. She went on to meet the Mayer of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, our Gov now. Gov. Edward G Rendell whom we have kept in touch with all these many years later. He has kept the picture we gave him of the 3 of us in his office ever since we visited him in 1996. She walked up and back down 67 steps in Philadelphia’s City Hall to appear at the City council meeting to protest potbellied pigs not being allowed in the city of Philadelphia, Pa. We never did win that case these 12 years later. Chanel 17 TV came out in the hall to interview us because we were not allowed in the council chambers. She went along to appear at the Court house of Shelton CT for another zoning protest, and was kicked out of the court house when she tried to slip inside unnoticed. She has appeared on Americas Greatest Pets as well as all the different TV stations in the Philadelphia area doing pet therapy. The Tokyo Broadcasting Co from Tokyo Japan came to our home, and filmed us for 2 days doing pet therapy at one of her nursing homes in the Levittown Pa. area.
Our Picture is also hanging in the Pennsylvania Art Museum in Harrisburg Pa. for the 50th Anniversary celebration of Levittown, Pa. She has had many Random Act of Kindness awards issued to her by the Tri County Potbellied Pig Club. Reggie and her sister Pepper have been attuned to the Master Level of Reiki for healing purposes. Anyone that touched Reggie or Pepper were instantly given Reiki healing. She was a Reiki Master. She gave many hours of education to children and adults alike in schools, and libraries in Pennsylvania. She was able to teach them just how intelligent a pig really is. She learned her flash cards with gusto She knew how to spell. She knew her colors, she could do simple math. She knew the answers to all the problems. and I never once taught her an answer. I would ask her to spell mom and she would spell Becky. Reggie and I proved that animals could read minds. I would ask someone to pick a color card and not tell the color. She picked the right one every time. She earned thousands of dollars for charities by doing Kiss-A-Pig contests for schools, and businesses. She was the driving force for reading programs in local schools. Whichever class read the most books could get to pick the teacher that would kiss the pig, and that was Reggie. Every where we went, whether it was to a park, or a flea Market, or just a walk around the camp ground where we stayed for 6 seasons, Reggie and Pepper were always giving therapy to all the people they met on the way. They educated so many about the pros and cons of having a potbellied pig as a companion animal. Reggie has left a legacy unsurpassed by any human that I have ever known or would ever hope to know in my life time. She has given love, and healing every where she has gone, and to everyone she has touched. She has taken me on one of the most amazing journeys of my life. As my dear friend Scott just said to me, “She was my Dragon, and I was her rider.” This story is the very reason the Potbellied pig makes such an amazing therapy pet partner. I hope more people will decide to venture into the world of therapy with their pig. They are so needed in this field Potbellied pigs are so much more than just a chubby little body grazing in the back yard. They are a great addition to any community and a very good pet partner. They are awesome healers and, I am living proof of that. Reggie Healed My Heart..That is another story that needs to be told and I am working on it as I write this. They love the challenge and the attention they receive and don’t forget the treats.. Everywhere we went and everything we did made an impression on someone and I always had a smile on my face as I drove home from our latest adventure while Reggie slept all the way.