WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – You’ve probably heard of service dogs, but some people prefer feathers over fur.
Michele Williams has an emotional support animal to help with her PTSD — not a dog, but a duck.
His name is Sunny D and Williams said he’s more than just a pet.
“He’s so sweet. As soon as he hears me open up the door he’s calling me, he’s like ‘Mom, it’s time for breakfast,’ ” Williams said.
Whether it’s to the beach or to the store, Sunny goes with her—but he can’t go everywhere because he’s not a service animal.
Pat Hairston is the program manager of Carolina Canines and said emotional support animals do not get the same access as service animals.
“My dogs make me feel better, that’s all there is to it,” Hairston said. “My personal dogs, they have no legal access to go with me in restaurants, grocery stores; wherever I go on a daily basis.”
Williams and Sunny D have not been denied from any business so far.
“I let them know ahead of time and the restaurants can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but he can go on an airplane,” Williams said. “He gets his own seat on an airplane and he gets to fly free.”
Mike Broughton, operations director for the Wilmington International Airport, said the flight policy for emotional support animals is a mixed bag.
“It varies airline by airline, those are considered birds and some don’t take un-caged birds, while others do.”
Broughton said he has even seen a therapy monkey fly coach. “It was cute, it had a little vest on and it was eating a tootsie roll pop.”
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal can only be a dog or, in some cases, a miniature horse.
Service animals can also do a long list of physical tasks.
“They know about 90 different commands,” Hairston said. “Anything from picking up a dropped item, to helping to open a door, retrieve a bottle of water from the refrigerator, load a washer and unload a dryer.”
For this reason, service dogs require about 2,500 hours of training while emotional support animals only require a letter from a therapist—both doing a job for their human.
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