Bill would put new restrictions on therapy pets

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Doctors and therapists will often prescribe therapy pets for people with psychiatric disabilities. A law that passed a couple years ago broadened access for therapy pets in places like grocery stores, but a new bill would reverse many of the elements in that law. Supporters say it's a matter of public safety, but opponents argue the new restrictions will change lives for the worse.

Chyrisse Haydon suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and was prescribed a therapy pet. She said, "He's the best therapy that I've ever had, and I've been through a lot of therapy."

Gizzmo is an 8-year-old Chihuahua-poodle mix. For Haydon, he's much more than your average pet. She said, "He goes with me everywhere. He is my constant companion."

In fact he's just what the doctor ordered to help Chyrisse with her often debilitating P.T.S.D.; something that followed her from experiences in a war in Rhodesia.

"I know what it's like to be stuck in your house because you can't leave," Haydon said. "You put your hand out, and your hand just can't open the door knob."

But if Senate Bill 173 becomes law, therapy pets like Gizzmo won't have nearly as much access to public places.

Jim Olsen, president of the Utah Food Industry Association, said, "What you had is these people bringing all types of different animals, rodents, reptiles whatever into the stores indicating that they were their comfort animal."

Supporters of the bill say service dogs for people with impaired hearing or vision would still have the same access. Under the American's with Disabilities Act, they receive special training.

But over the past few years, there have been reports of people abusing the current law. Olsen said, "It was all these other types of animals with no training really, no reason that they should be there, and in fact were jeopardizing the health and safety of the other customers."

Haydon says if Gizzmo can't go somewhere, neither can she, and she's furious that people who abused the law ruined it for those who need it.

She said, "To me, it's like somebody who's not handicapped parking in a handicap spot."

Senate Bill 173 passed through both the House and Senate and will likely become a law.


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