You might think emotional support animals are limited to dogs, but some people like to think outside the box when it comes to getting a helping hand. Species ranging from ducks and turkeys to pigs and kangaroos have been spotted out and about, helping their owners live their daily lives. And emotional support animals aren't just for humans, either – some zoos use dogs to help comfort anxious cheetahs.
How could adorably weird pets like kangaroos possibly count as emotional support animals? The boom of weird therapy animals has definitely stirred up controversy. The Chicago Tribune published a scathing op-ed titled "Enough With The Fake Service Dogs And Emotional Support Pigs," and The Guardian wrote at length about the ease in which people can allegedly register an emotional support pet.
Certainly taking advantage of this system is wrong, but as to whether or not your pet actually helps you, that's up to your doctor to decide. According to the National Service Animal Registry, a person has to be considered emotionally disabled by a licensed mental health professional before they can get an animal buddy help them. Even so, they may still run into problems if they've got one of these strange therapy pets.
Squirrels aren't just the cute, nut-loving rodents that run around backyards – they're legitimate service animals. Brutis the squirrel has been emotionally supporting his companion Ryan Boylan, who developed post-traumatic stress after a car accident in 2004.
In 2017, the property management at Boylan's complex filed a complaint against Boylan after discovering the squirrel. The complex has a strict ban on exotic pets (yes, a squirrel is considered exotic). Though Boylan has a doctor's note, he didn't tell the board and failed to submit the proper paperwork until July of 2017.
In October 2018, a woman tried to take her emotional support squirrel on a Frontier Airlines flight from Orlando to Cleveland, but she was ultimately kicked off the plane. She had noted she planned to bring a service animal, but did not specify that it was a squirrel - an animal that the airline categorizes as a rodent, which is not allowed. Everyone was forced to deplane, as the woman in question refused to leave the flight.
Daniel Turducken Stinkerbutt rose to fame in 2016, when he took his first flight from Charlotte to Asheville, NC. The Indian Runner duck is a registered emotional support animal and full-blown Internet celebrity.
Daniel was adopted by Carla Fitzgerald in 2012. A year after his adoption, Fitzgerald was in a terrible horse-and-carriage accident and spent four months re-learning how to walk. He responded almost immediately to his owner's new needs.
“He would notice something wrong, whether it be my pain or my PTSD,” Fitzgerald told The Washington Post. “He would come and lay on me and [give me] lots of hugging and lots of kisses. And if he notices that I’m going to have a panic attack, he would give me a cue to lay down by trying to climb me.”
To get ready for his flight, Daniel donned some red shoes and a Captain American diaper (he looked pretty darn dapper). Fitzgerald provided a doctor's note to the airline and people seemed to be delighted to have the little duck accompanying them on their short journey.
When my mom has a kangaroo on her flight as an "emotional support animal" ... pic.twitter.com/VdcmDahsPp— Dev (@DevinnZeller) March 26, 2015
Service kangaroos might be rare, but they're not totally unheard of. In 2015, a Wisconsin woman stirred up controversy after she was kicked out of McDonald's with her baby service kangaroo. The woman claimed to have a doctor's note for the animal, which she used to cope with emotional distress. The adorable kangaroo was wrapped in a blanket and placed in a baby car seat, but sadly, didn't meet McDonald's health and safety standards.
Kangaroos have also been spotted on flights as emotional support animals. In 2014, a kangaroo named Joey got a first-class ride on an American Airlines, and in 2015, Twitter user DevinnZeller shared a picture of her mother with an adorable service kangaroo in coach. While emotional support animals are often painted as the bane of a flight attendant's existence, this flight attendant looks pretty stoked.
There is such a thing as a service pony and i want one pic.twitter.com/3uoh2z6wB1— Alan Cumming (@Alancumming) October 22, 2014
Why have a guide dog when you can have a guide horse? Miniature horses have recently gained approval as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, The Guide Horse Foundation has a training program that helps make mini horses pros at leading around vision-impaired humans.
According to The Guide Horse Foundation, miniature horses make excellent guide animals for people afraid of dogs. They're also more of a life-long guide pet. Mini horses can live up to 40 years, while dogs typically live 10 to 15 years.
Not only can you use a mini horse as a guide animal, but you can also register your service horse as an emotional support animal if you suffer from anxiety. Seven Oaks Farm in Ohio regularly takes their mini horses to the Cincinnati/Northern Ohio Airport to calm down anxious travelers.
“It's just to ease anxiety levels, put smiles on faces. Clearly that's working," airport worker Wendi Orlando told NPR. “When you look at the passengers walking by, it just never gets old. They love seeing the horses.”