This woman isn't driving around with a monkey on her lap just for fun. Richard, a 25-pound bonnet macaque monkey, helps Debby Rose get through the day without debilitating panic attacks. Debby has agoraphobia, a severe anxiety disorder. Until getting Richard four years ago, she required heavy doses of anti-anxiety drugs just to go out in public.
Beyond just guide dogs for the blind, animals are fulfilling a vast array of needs, reporter Rebecca Skloot tells Alex Cohen on the show this morning. In an article for The New York Times Magazine, Skloot writes about the benefits and complications of using less traditional service animals.
There's Sadie the parrot, who talks down her owner Jim Eggers, when he's on the verge of a psychotic episode with, "It's O.K., Jim. Calm down, Jim. You're all right, Jim. I'm here, Jim."
Jim carries Sadie around with him in a backpack (above) designed to hold Sadie's cage.
And there's Panda, one of an increasing number of guide-miniature horses being used by blind individuals. Ann Edie relies on Panda to lead her through her daily activities, such as a shopping expedition to Staples (right). Skloot, who spent many hours with the pair, says she was taken aback by the level of care the horse takes with Ann.
"I saw her maneuver around things that I as a sighted person wouldn't have thought of," she explains. Panda taps on the sidewalk with her hooves to signal Ann to step up and to taps a metal pole to help Ann find the crossing button.
"You can hear all these different tones with Panda's hooves. This is something that a dog absolutely couldn't do," Skloot says.
Although individuals often have to fight health ordinances and local laws to live with and enter businesses with a miniature horse, it can be worth it as the animals typically live for decades longer than guide dogs.
You can see additional photos and find out more on Rebecca Skloot's blog.