(48) I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes: Ever hear of a service snake?

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)

  Spiders and Snakes

Do you remember the song, Spiders and Snakes” sung by Jim Stafford in the 1970s?  I am reminded of the song when I hear from Molly blog readers, telling me their non-canine pets offer the same type of therapy and comfort given by Molly to William. Many suggest that I should talk about these pets. When researching Molly Blog 47 about flying with a service dog, references suggested people actually use snakes and reptiles of every sort to comfort them.

Exotic Pets

While William and I waited in a doctor’s office, I came upon the April 2014 National Geographic that ran an article on exotic pets. I realized that many different animals, including exotic animals, can replicate the love and affection offered by a service dog. We must remember, though, that ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) only allows public access for service dogs that assist a person with a disability when that service animal is trained for a specific task to help with that disability. The only other animal allowed public access in ADA is a miniature horse.

Therapy and emotional support animals do not qualify under ADA for public access. These animals, however, provide an invaluable service, which might include meeting a veteran or others’ emotional needs.

The Value of Emotional Support Pets

John Ensminger (In Service and Therapy Dogs in American Society) shares information about how valuable an emotional support animal is. Although, he focuses primarily on canines, he addresses the benefits of cats, horses, and bunnies. Emotional support dogs are used in hospitals to calm patients before surgery or difficult procedures. Mental health institutes employ animals to help patients focus and develop independence. These animals motivate patients to care for themselves by learning to care for an animal. Scientific tests have shown the benefits of a therapy animal in the classroom with children and in the courtroom when a child must testify against an aggressor or molester. Alzheimer patients enjoy the benefits of dogs by keeping patients engaged socially. The elderly experience more engagement in life once exposed to dogs and other pets. Longer lives have been documented for pet owners versus seniors who do not own a pet or have not been exposed to a pet in an assistance home.

In the research about a service dog’s right to fly with his/her handler, the Department of Transportation (DOT) acknowledges that people want their pet snake, lizard, or rodent to accompany them on a flight. Not so fast, lovers of reptiles—DOT says they must ride in the cargo hold in containers. It does confirm the point, however, that people consider non-canine pets as life enhancing and therapeutic.

 Unusual Pets

In the National Geographic article by Lauren Slater (pp. 96-119), she wrote about exotic pets and their owners. She mentioned Melani Butera, a veterinarian, who adopted Dillie, a farm deer, after the deer’s mother’s abandoned her. The deer slept on Ms. Butera’s bed at one time but eventually earned her own bedroom, including a bed, pink lace bed coverings, feminine accents, and her name in letters across the wall.

One woman raised a capybara. Say what? A capybara is the largest rodent in the world and is related to the guinea pig. (Here is a Wiki link if you want to see what a capybara looks like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capybara.) This pet owner loves swimming and snuggling with her capybara.

Michelle Berk owned a kinkajou, Winnie, until she encountered problems when the kinkajou reached sexual maturity. She released Winnie to a wild animal preserve. Ms. Berk’s comments are telling about the important role Winnie played in her and her family’s life:

‘I’ve learned that Winnie never really needed us. She didn’t need to be our pet. She didn’t need to be locked up. We got her because we needed her.’

Ms. Slater mentioned that of the large land mammals on earth, “just a dozen have been successfully domesticated.” Consequently, as loveable as they seem, these exotic animals are still wild. That is what makes the dog or cat an ideal companion. These two animals have endured generations of domestication. In fact, domestication of the dog enables it to serve and participate in our lives.

So, back to the song. Even though females generally do not enjoy being around spiders and snakes, typically men do so I expect some of our readers use these creepy crawlers as therapeutic companions. My sister will make me recant the statement that females generally do not enjoy being around spiders and snakes. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, she and her husband own hundreds of reptile critters.

 Replace Molly?

I have not told Molly about these different types of therapy animals, as she might feel slighted. After all, she eats spiders, tromps snakes, chases mice, and barks at muley deer. She would be devastated to know she could be replaced by any of them. Not to worry, Miss Molly. William would have a difficult time using a spider for brace and balance.

Post your Comments: 

Do you have an unusual pet that offers you or a family member emotional support? Please comment below.  

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.

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