Montana woman with support bird argues for greater inclusion
Post & Courier - 4/26/2018
GREAT FALLS, Mont. - Maile Ready has survived with post-traumatic stress disorder and the disorder’s accompanying panic attacks for many years. Traditional forms of treatment for her disability, anti-anxiety medications and counseling, offered her only limited relief.
Over time, Ready found her-self less able to do daily tasks. She was reluctant to engage with new people, felt anxious and afraid. At times she would remain isolated in her home, unwilling or unable to leave the security of her living room.
Today, Ready is living a more full and inclusive life, largely due to the ever-present calming and reassuring presence of her cockatiel, Chicken.
“He gives me a life,” she said as the diminutive bird sits quietly upon her outstretched forefinger. “He lets me live my life. He lets me be social, keeps me off medications, keeps me happy. He lets me go out. Doesn’t let me be a hermit.”
Chicken is with Ready wherever she goes, even sleeping with her at night.
Since the 1990s, federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act, has made it illegal for a business owner to deny access to physically impaired people accompanied by a service dog. Few people today would object to the now common presence of a trained and well-behaved dog assisting a person who is blind or hearing impaired.
But what qualifies as a legiti-mate service animal has become blurred. Small dogs, cats, miniature pigs, snakes, birds - all these creatures have been and continue to be identified by their owners as providing essential support that allows them to live a more normal life.
What marks the difference between a legitimate service animal and simply a pet that someone likes to take with them wherever they go?
On two recent occasions, Great Falls store owners have informed Ready that she will no longer be allowed into their place of business while carrying her cockatiel.
Ready said she willingly complied on both occasions with the store owner/manager’s request that she remove Chicken from their property, but both she and her husband, Dann, are adamant that Chicken provides her with a vital service.
“She has been able to completely quit her anxiety medication,” Dann Ready said of Chicken’s impact on Maile’s life. “... Having the bird alerts her (Maile) to when she’s going to have a panic attack before she even knows it.”
Ready said Chicken will exhibit uncommon behavior when he senses Maile is about to experience a panic attack; flapping his wings or flying off her shoulder. Maile reacts by seeking a comfortable place, perhaps leaving the environment that is sparking her stress, sitting down and getting something to eat or drink to calm her growing anxiety.
Many people may be skeptical of a bird’s ability to sense an impending panic attack. However, it is now widely accepted that specially trained dogs can sniff out cancer, and can detect when their owners are about to experience a diabetic or epileptic seizure. It is theorized that these dogs are able to pick up on extremely small quantities of chemicals related to these illnesses that are emitted when their owner exhales.
Whether a cockatiel has that ability is not widely accepted, but there is evidence that animals such as birds can ease and alleviate their owner’s anxiety. National organizations such as Parrots for Patriots have formed to connect military veterans with birds to help them mitigate the symptoms of PTSD.
But is this enough to qualify a bird or any other animal for access privileges outlined under the ADA? Ready contacted the Cascade County Attorney’s Office but was unable to obtain a clear-cut answer.
Kim Monroe, a volunteer with the service dog trainers Canine Companions for Independence, said the controlling article of law for what defines a service animal is the ADA. “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities,” Monroe read from the ADA. “For an individual with a disability the task performed must be directly related to their disability, such as alerting someone to lowering blood sugar levels, alerting them when to take medication, detecting seizures, opening a door, carrying an item or turning on and off a light.”
“Emotional support or comfort animals are not trained to do a specific job or task. That’s why they don’t qualify as a service animal.”
A service animal does not have to be trained by a recognized organization, and the U.S. does not issue service animal identification cards.
Ready said she wants people to understand that Chicken is far more than just a pet.
“I can live my life the way I used to,” Ready said of her bird’s positive effect on her life.