Tonka, a mobility support service horse, proves that you don't have to be a dog in order to be a service animal.
Envision a service animal. Chances are that you pictured a dog fetching items for its owner, guiding its owner through stores and streets, and helping the owner with medical issues or restrictions.
But service animals include more than just dogs, now. Tonka, a miniature horse, has a job as a mobility support service horse, and he does it well.
Tonka was trained by Donna Scarpa of The Tiny Trotters in Los Osos, California before traveling to Oregon where he now lives with his owner. Tonka has been trained to perform various tasks to help his owner, who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS).
Tonka helps his owner balance while walking, climbing or descending stairs, sitting down or standing up, and more. He can even help his owner get back up if she happens to fall.
Watch Tonka in action.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, which governs the laws overseeing service animals, now recognizes miniature horses as service animals. There are some advantages to using miniature horses as service owners over dogs.
Miniature horses are typically larger and stronger than most service dogs, so they're ideal for helping adults to balance. Additionally, miniature horses can live for approximately 30 years, meaning that they can serve longer than most service dogs can.
It's important to realize that Tonka isn't a therapy animal - he's a service animal. Miniature horses are often used as therapy animals, where they provide emotional support to children and adults. However, true service animals have been taught to perform specific tasks to assist an adult, as Tonka has.
There's no doubt that Tonka is a very special horse, and that he makes a difference in his owner's life on a daily basis.