US & Canada

Therapy animals: 'Something to care for and love'

biggestlittlepickle uploaded on imgur: My neighbour is a flight attendant. He just posted this photo of someone's "therapy pet," on his flight. Image copyright biggestlittlepickle / imgur

To board an aeroplane and find that one of your fellow passengers has feathers is not a usual occurrence.

But this is exactly what happened on a recent US domestic flight when a turkey was spotted sitting in a seat on the plane.

While it is still uncommon to see turkeys and other animals on planes, more people are turning to animals to help them cope with problems and stressful situations.

Known as therapy animals or emotional support animals (ESA), people learn how to deal with their mental health issues better with the presence of an animal.

The animals are normally prescribed by licenced mental health professionals to people who have emotional or psychiatric issues, according to the National Service Animal Registry based in the US.

Image copyright Jodie Smalley
Image caption Easter the turkey taking in the view from a plane window

On the social networking site, Reddit, there have been 1,700 comments to date on the photo posted by biggestlittlepickle of the turkey.

Some reactions on the site to the photo include:

"This is what I get for praying no babies on the flight...", says one user.

"This is getting ridiculous", says another.

Another poster comments: "Honestly anyone who even has a turkey as a pet needs therapy."

The Easter turkey

The turkey in question, called Easter, was travelling with its owner Jodie Smalley from Seattle, who was flying to Salt Lake City.

"Having Easter with me was a source of positive presence. She was someone to focus on if my emotions became too much," she said.

"The flight we went on was only an hour and a half long. During the flight she was quiet and well behaved. She had a diaper on from a site that specialises in bird diapers and it works really well!"

Image copyright Jodie Smalley

Jodie has recently been through a separation and bereavement and struggled mentally and emotionally but finds Easter a source of comfort.

"Easter was found by friends as a baby and brought into my life during an emotionally difficult time.

"Being in a toxic environment, she was something to care for and love. Spending a moment just hanging out with her quiet demeanour and giving her affection is a moment of peace and meditation.

"There have certainly been dark days and no matter what, Easter always made me smile and laugh."

Are ESAs for real?

Although Jodie has received a mainly positive reaction to Easter, others have not been as lucky.

In June 2015, officials in Wisconsin changed the rules on therapy animals after a woman walked into a fast food restaurant with a baby kangaroo.

The woman claimed it was an ESA but officials said therapy animals can only include a dog or a miniature horse.

In November 2014, a woman was escorted off a US Airways flight when her ESA, a pot-bellied pig called Hobie, defecated and squealed before the plane took off.

Image copyright @AngelicaSpanos / Twitter

It has been claimed people are abusing the laws in the US to take their pets on flights.

In an article for the New York Post, writer Charlotte Hays is cynical about the merits of ESAs:

"Taking pets where they're legitimately not wanted is an exercise in selfishness or exhibitionism.

"If you can't go without the pet, don't go."

Can therapy animals genuinely serve as a means of managing mental health issues?

According to Jodie, her ESA has helped her through the most difficult time of her life.

"Easter is a pleasant distraction, a source of love and affection. In the last year and a half I lost hope, stability, a home, a marriage, a family of in-laws and my husband.

"It brings me joy to see the wonder she brings to others.

"One of the biggest draws in life is to inspire others and to me, Easter is an ambassador of inspiration."

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