Is a Seeing-Eye Horse a Service Animal?

Tabitha Darling who is blind relies on her service horse every day.

ByABC News via logo
March 24, 2009, 7:55 AM

March 24, 2009 — -- Fort Worth, Texas, resident Tabitha Darling and her horse, Trixie are inseparable. The pair travel everywhere together, including to the local Dairy Queen drive-through and even to stores because Trixie is Darling's seeing-eye horse.

Trixie guides the legally blind Darling, and to see the horse trotting through the grocery aisle alongside Darling evokes surprise.

"She's kinda pretty much my life," said Darling, who had previously trained a horse to work with the disabled. "We've been together for about eight years now. She gives me the independence in getting out there."

Horses live longer than dogs and have better vision but aren't as easily house trained as dogs.

For decades, dogs have been the go-to service animal. Dogs were the original service animals trained after World War I to work with blind veterans.

But some have been looking beyond the canine world for help.

Some people use parrots, ferrets and snakes to help with psychological disorders.

For Debby Rose, it's her monkey that helps keep her healthy. She said the monkey replaces the medication she took for her anxiety attacks.

"He calms me down. He lowers my blood pressure from his soothing and his eye contact," Rose said.

Monkeys have been praised for helping quadriplegics with daily chores.

The American Disabilities Act protects service animals, saying they can go anywhere their owners go, but the government has begun rethinking whether the regulations should be changed to exclude some animals.

The problem is some of the animals "have not been trained in the methods that a service animal needs to be trained in. They are not trained to do specific tasks," said Becky Barnes, manager of consumer outreach for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.