Newsletter June 2016

 June 2016

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Lending a Helping Hand: Emotional Support Animals


The wide range of benefits that can come from spending time with animals has been thoroughly established. Studies from the field of animal assisted therapy have shown that interacting with animals can lower your heart rate and reduce risk for many health conditions. As a result, many institutions from schools to nursing homes have begun hosting a variety of animals from guinea pigs to pot-bellied pigs. In fact, animal helpers have begun showing up in some unusual venues. At the Yale Law School library, for example, you can check out more than books. In fact, you can check out a dog for an hour or two of stress relief during finals!


But animals can provide great benefits to individual owners as well, particularly those struggling with mental illness. Sammy, a four-month-old guinea pig, began his career as an emotional support animal (ESA) when he was adopted by a college student named Sally. Sally was struggling with depression and anxiety. Though Sammy was just a pup, he was able to provide the student with unconditional love and companionship from his home in the college dorm. With his support, Sally was able to overcome her severe social anxiety, make greater connections with others, and live a more fulfilling life.

Though emotional support animals share similarities to other service animals, they do not require specialized training nor do they receive the full set of legal protections afforded service animals. Since the animals don’t require months or years of formal training, greater diversity of species can function as emotional support animals. For example, a guinea pig can’t lead someone who is visually impaired, yet they can still serve as a great emotional support animal.

Though many emotional support animals are dogs and cats, any species can serve as an emotional support animal. While ESAs do not need training, the personality of the animal can be key in determining how well they will be able to assist their owner. While there are no specific requirements the animal has to meet, the owner must have a verifiable disability in order to be prescribed an emotional support animal. Often, a note from a medical professional stating that the person has a disability, and that the emotional support animal provides a benefit for the person, is all that is required for protection under federal law in the United States. Fortunately, ESAs are afforded protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This also allows emotional support animals to live in places where pets are usually not allowed, such as college dorms or pet-free apartments. They can also travel with owners due to their inclusion under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Not all emotional support animals are owned as personal pets. Because the presence of animals can help lower blood pressure and lessen the symptoms of anxiety and depression, many therapists use ESA’s in their offices. It has also been shown that an animal’s presence induces neurochemical changes such as increases in oxytocin, which aids in social bonding. Additionally, emotional support animals have been known to lower triglyceride, reduce stress, reduce feelings of loneliness, increase activity and exercise, and create more opportunities for socialization. Clearly these animals can have a tremendous impact on people struggling with mental illness – an ESA can truly change their lives.

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Taming the Beast: Guinea Pig Training


Guinea pigs may look like small, furry potatoes, but they are actually capable of much more than eating hay and looking cute. These adorable creatures can not only learn how to come when called, they have also been successful at agility training and performing many simple tricks. Though guinea pigs may not be as easy to train as dogs, they are willing to be trained and will benefit from training with their owners.

Believe it or not, guinea pigs can be trained to use a litter box. For more information on litter training guinea pigs and other unusual pets, see ABI’s article here. An easy training goal is to teach your guinea pig to come when called. Talking to your guinea pig often and saying his or her name can get the pig used to the sound of your voice and what to listen for. While training your pig to come, reinforce him in small steps. Don’t expect him or her to get it right on the first try. Be patient and observe how your pig responds.


Great beginner tips for guinea pig training

Whenever you train be sure to use a treat that is broken into small pieces. You’ll want to reward them for each correct behavior but you don’t want to end up overfeeding them. Hay can be used as a treat; it’s easy to dispense in small quantities. Bananas (in small quantities) or other fruits are a popular choice. Or you can simply choose your guinea pig’s favorite snack - but be careful not to feed them anything that is poisonous to guinea pigs. You should deliver the treat as soon as possible once your pig has completed the task, in order to reinforce the behavior you want. Follow his success with praise – it does wonders for the hearing of both children and animals.

Whenever you are training, you should write down your goal, and what you’ve accomplished in each training session. For example, if the ultimate goal was for your pig to come when called, you might start by training your pig to take a step towards you when you say his name. Writing down goals and accomplishments can help you to keep track of your training and see how far your pet has come. If your pet is struggling, you can refer to that list and go back a step to a behavior he already does well.

As your guinea pig progresses, you may want to try some more advanced tricks. Guinea pigs have been trained to stand on their hind legs, spin around, run in a circle, and even weave in and out of an obstacle course. Check out the video below, showing guinea pigs performing impressive tricks.


Guinea pig tricks!

Though guinea pigs can be slower to learn than many other animals, they are certainly capable of being trained. Guinea pigs enjoy training just as much as you enjoy watching them do tricks. Even simple training can benefit both the owner and the pet, enriching their relationship.

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Animals with Disabilities

Stumpy, a 12-year-old female box turtle, suffered an injured and infected front leg when she arrived at Savannah’s Oatland Island Wildlife Center. A veterinarian operated on Stumpy and removed her damaged leg, leaving her with only three remaining legs until the vet took Stumpy to her daughter’s school. The elementary school used a 3D printer and 3DTin software to design, print, and attach a new leg for Stumpy, improving her ability to walk and move drastically. Though many animals are born with or suffer from different types of disabilities, modern technology and human kindness are able to provide them the tools they need to live long, happy lives and even be role models or companions to humans with disabilities. In fact, this video shows Stumpy walking around with her new leg on!


A huge number of animals have found themselves in the same position as Stumpy. Luckily, many of them have been fortunate enough to run into humans willing to take the time to create accommodations for them. This article shows some of the most impressive animals that are kicking butt - disability and all.


Another remarkable story is that of Estella the guinea pig. Estella was found on the side of the road and taken to a shelter in Calaveras County, California. Sadly, a child had squeezed Estella too tightly, causing her back to break. As a result, Estella was paralyzed and unable to move the back half of her body. Luckily, Harvest Home Sanctuary, an animal rescue organization, came to Estella’s rescue. Though a veterinarian concluded that no treatment could help Estella regain mobility of her back legs, the sanctuary was determined to help Estella. They knew she would someday be able to move around like other guinea pigs on her own.


Looking to improve Estella’s quality of life, Harvest home Sanctuary soon found an organization that makes wheelchairs for animals. They needed $500 dollars to help her: $300 for the wheelchair, and $200 for medical expenses. By fundraising on social media platforms, they were quickly able to get the money and pay for Estella’s treatment. Soon, Estella was fitted for the wheelchair and began using it to get around. The new device allows Estella to engage in exercise and enrichment that hugely increase her happiness.


Animals with disabilities are not only helped by humans, but can also be the ones to return the favor. For example, a one-eyed rescue puppy has formed a special bond with a human shooting victim who also lost her eye. In this situation, Bear the puppy’s disability helps him to form a unique and special relationship with his owner, Maria. Bear and Maria are both healing together and with help from each other. For example, they are both learning that they can’t turn around quickly on their blind side or they will bump into something. They are both going through the same treatments and the same adjustments together as a team. With each other, each one is finding peace and moving on.


Animals with disabilities have countless stories that can be inspiring and empowering to humans with and without their own disabilities. Through different treatments, many disabled animals have been able to live happy and fulfilling lives, and their treatments have often mirrored or led to similar treatments for humans. Because of this mirroring, disabled animals and humans can have special bonds, and animals can be used in the healing process for humans who have suffered severe injuries. These situations highlight and emphasize the love and compassion that is shared between animals and humans around the world.


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Endal the Magnificent

It is easy to admire the assistance dogs that provide faithful service to the disabled, helping those with blindness, deafness, paralysis and seizures. But even among this exalted group there is an individual that stands out as exceptional: Endal the yellow Labrador. Endal was a service dog during the late 1990s for an ex-Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer named Allen Parton. Because of his amazing talent and ability, Endal became famous, receiving many awards; he was filmed over 300 times! Endal was a fully operational assistance dog, with the ability to shop, run an elevator, operate a washing machine and use electrical switches. If that’s not impressive enough, Endal also saved his owner’s life by pulling him to safety and putting him in the recovery position. Endal passed away on March 13, 2009 at age thirteen, but his legacy carries on to this day.


Allen Parton was confined to a wheelchair after suffering a car accident during the Gulf War. He awoke unable to recognize his wife and two children; he suffered from severe memory loss. At first, Mr. Parton was deeply depressed, and twice attempted suicide. However, everything changed the day that Mr. Parton accompanied his wife to the dog-training centre where she worked. This was where he met Endal. The yellow lab immediately took a shine to Mr. Parton, coming right up to him and giving him a lick. Endal refused to leave Mr. Parton’s side at the centre. This filled Mr. Parton with hope and encouragement and served as a turning point in his life. Mr. Parton also credits Endal with saving his marriage. After his accident and the resulting memory loss, his marriage suffered. However, because of Endal’s care and support, Mr. Parton and his wife Sandra returned to sharing love and happiness. In fact, in 2002, they renewed their wedding vows.


Endal was voted Dog of the Millennium and given the PDSA's Gold Medal, considered the canine equivalent of the British George Cross award, for saving Mr. Parton's life in 2001 after he had been knocked from his wheelchair by a car. Endal reacted quickly, not only pulling his owner to safety, but also putting a blanket over him and running to a nearby hotel, barking for help. Endal was also able to help Mr. Parton with countless daily activities, such as inserting and withdrawing a credit card into an ATM, buying and paying for groceries, posting letters, helping Mr. Parton get out of bed and into his wheelchair by pulling his blanket back and swinging his legs around, picking up the phone and bringing it to his owner, and even barking for attention at a local pub and then paying for the beer!


Towards the end of his life, when Endal was crippled by arthritis, Mr. Parton and his family turned the tables by taking care of him until the day he passed. The relationship between Endal and his owner was undoubtedly a close and important one to both man and dog. Endal continues to be recognized for his talent and the incredible impact he had on Mr. Parton and his family.

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