Pet skunk Pongo helps Wakefield nurse's anxiety
A nurse who suffers from anxiety has told how carrying her pet skunk helped her to cope with going out in public.
Paula Bevill, from Wakefield, is a fan of comic book conventions but can only attend events if she brings her emotional support animal (ESA) Pongo.
The 46-year-old struggles with large, confined crowds but says Pongo acts as a distraction.
"I faff with him and tap him. He loves it and I love it because it helps keep my focus on something else," she said.
"I carry him in a baby sling. He's really comfy there, it keeps my focus.
"When it comes to the general public I really appreciate it. One thing I don't like doing is talking about me because I find it really hard, so all the attention goes to him and I can talk about skunks until I'm blue in the face and I can handle that.
"When I'm at a Comic Con event and there's lots of people around me it's like having 16 television screens blaring. I hear those conversations really clearly and it's overwhelming.
"Pongo brings the focus back so I can go and look at stalls, sit and have a coffee. It allows me to function at a level where I can enjoy something rather than thinking what's the next challenge, what's the next thing that will stress me out?"
What is an emotional support animal (ESA)?
A companion animal is one that a medical professional says provides some benefit for a person with a mental health condition or emotional disorder.
A person must have a prescriptive letter from a licensed medical professional stating the need to have an animal with them when travelling, shopping and for accommodation.
Some of the conditions that would lead to a need for an ESA include anxiety, depression, a fear of flying and PTSD.
Fortunately, Pongo seems to cope well in crowds and has so far avoided living up to his name.
"He's never sprayed," says Ms Bevill. "It literally is a last resort, they only do it when they want to protect themselves."
She used to have ferrets and turned to owning a skunk because she wanted something similar.
"When I first saw Pongo I fell in love with him," she said. "I've got a bit of soft spot for oddballs. He's just a bit dippy, I love him to bits."
As well a Comic Con events, Ms Bevill said she and Pongo had been welcomed by many other venues, including Bradford City FC's Valley Parade stadium and the city's Industrial Museum.