"ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT IN A SUBURB of Albany, a group of children dressed as vampires and witches ran past a middle-aged woman in plain clothes.
"She gripped a leather harness — like the kind used for Seeing Eye dogs — which was attached to a small, fuzzy black-and-white horse barely tall enough to reach the woman’s hip.
“Cool costume,” one of the kids said, nodding toward her.
"But she wasn’t dressed up. The woman, Ann Edie, was simply blind and out for an evening walk with Panda, her guide miniature horse."
OK, but "a growing number of people believe the world of service animals has gotten out of control: first it was guide dogs for the blind; now it’s monkeys for quadriplegia and agoraphobia, guide miniature horses, a goat for muscular dystrophy, a parrot for psychosis and any number of animals for anxiety, including cats, ferrets, pigs, at least one iguana and a duck.
"They’re all showing up in stores and in restaurants, which is perfectly legal because the Americans With Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) requires that service animals be allowed wherever their owners want to go."
And while "some people enjoy running into an occasional primate or farm animal while shopping, many others don’t.
"This has resulted in a growing debate over how to handle these animals, as well as widespread suspicion that people are abusing the law to get special privileges for their pets.
"Increasingly, business owners, landlords and city officials are challenging the legitimacy of noncanine service animals and refusing to accommodate them. Animal owners are responding with lawsuits and complaints to the Department of Justice.
"This August, the Arizona Game and Fish Department ordered a woman to get rid of her chimpanzee, claiming that she brought it into the state illegally — she disputed this and sued for discrimination, arguing that it was a diabetes-assistance chimp trained to fetch sugar during hypoglycemic episodes."
I don't know; I guess I understand.
But whenever I see that lady out walking her llama along Massachusetts Avenue in Lexington, I just can't help but ask: