EDITORIAL: Support for and from the animals

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Kevin and LuLu, two potbellied pigs owned by Jessica Maul and her family.

To paraphrase George Orwell, all emotional support animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Kevin and LuLu, two emotional support pot-bellied pigs, fall on the more equal side, the Manchester Township Board of Supervisors recently decided.

Jessica Maul brought Kevin and LuLu into her home after her children witnessed the sudden death of their grandfather more than three years ago, and the pigs have been emotionally supporting the household ever since.

That is, until a recent complaint brought them to the attention of officials in Manchester Township, who said that the pigs did not comply with the township's rules for household pets. The township's zoning hearing board denied the family's appeal, but the Board of Supervisors ruled in August that as emotional support animals, the pigs could stay.

Which is all well and good. After all, pot-bellied pigs have been recognized as household pets for many years now. 

We've all heard the stories about emotional support animals, from peacocks to Wally, the emotional support alligator who lives in Strinestown with Joie Henney. 

Many other pets can qualify as emotional support animals as well, from the usual dogs and cats to hamsters, snakes, birds, horses, etc.

They're a separate category from service animals, which are trained to perform tasks for their owners, such as dogs and miniature horses that help guide people who are visually impaired, other animals that help those with hearing impairment and others trained to alert when a person is in danger of having a seizure or in the presence of allergens.

Emotional support animals just have to be there to provide a calming presence or comfort a person with an emotional or psychological disability during times of stress. There is no national licensing service for ESAs, but people can receive a prescription for an ESA from their doctor to make them eligible for special treatment for housing or travel purposes.

Kevin and LuLu, two potbellied pigs owned by Jessica Maul and her family.

The problem for local governments comes when people start to keep exotic pets as their emotional support animals. 

"You don't want an emotional support Bengal tiger," Manchester Township solicitor Lawrence Young said. "We have to come up with some reasonable restrictions."

He makes a good point. While some people might find comfort in living with a tiger, alligator or bear, many would be worried about living next door to such an animal. And it's not reasonable to expect to keep a horse in an apartment.

Perhaps it's time for groups who have made it possible for people to live and travel with their emotional support animals to come up with guidelines for living with them in general society. Organizations such as the Humane Society of the U.S., the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, which is tasked with upholding the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other groups could create some best practices for people to follow with ESAs.

In the meantime, maybe people can just learn to get along with other people and their animals. Petting a calm animal, whether it's a pig, a dog or a cat, can help in nearly any situation.

Kevin and LuLu, two potbellied pigs owned by Jessica Maul and her family.