Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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Pet pigs aren’t service animals

The CBC published an article about Christopher the Pig – the story of a “well travelled” pig. I am quite upset about the whole thing. I was amused at first, then I realized that Christopher’s owners are passing off a pet pig as a service animal. This is all kinds of wrong.

As a service dog owner, needing the dog to help me with things such as pulling my wheelchair and picking items off the ground, I am well aware of the need for service animals. I have no immediate objections to service animals being non-standards – they don’t always have to be a dog.

But I have encountered a lot of problems. Refusal to entry into hotels and motels (I was once thrown out of a motel room because the motel owner did not like dogs!). I have problems on flights where airlines typically assign seats that have no leg room, which means no space for my dog to be safe or comfortable during the flight.

And a part of the problem comes from people who are trying to pass off their pet dogs as service dogs. “Once burned, twice shy”, goes the saying. It’s no surprise that companies who’ve had problems with unruly, ill-behaved dogs would hesitate to open their doors to service dogs, because they can’t know for sure if my service dog is a genuine service dog and if he’s going to behave properly.

Coming back to Christopher the Pig, I’m sure he’s a great and lovely pet animal. In fact, the CBC article states that the husband got the pig as a pet for his wife.

“My wife, she’s vegetarian, and she wanted to have a pig so I got her a pig as a pet,” he says. “She was excited.”

At the end of the article, the husband states again that it’s easy to have the pig travel, since he’s now a registered service animal for him, as an army veteran.

This is where I get upset. You don’t get a pet pig for your wife and suddenly declare he’s a service animal for yourself. It doesn’t work that way. And it makes life very difficult for genuine service animal users.

The whole article leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. These people behave as if they are treating service animals as a big joke, as a way to take their pet everywhere. Shame on these people for doing this. Shame on the CBC for reporting on the well travelled pig without highlighting the issues it causes for genuine service animal users.