January 04, 2009
Guide Horses Better Than Guide Dogs For Blind

A blind guy with the name Wilbur should obviously get a guide horse named Mr. Ed. (and if you are too young to get the reference you are unknowingly suffering from cultural deprivation)

The woman, Ann Edie, was simply blind and out for an evening walk with Panda, her guide miniature horse.

There are no sidewalks in Edie’s neighborhood, so Panda led her along the street’s edge, maneuvering around drainage ditches, mailboxes and bags of raked leaves. At one point, Panda paused, waited for a car to pass, then veered into the road to avoid a group of children running toward them swinging glow sticks. She led Edie onto a lawn so she wouldn’t hit her head on the side mirror of a parked van, then to a traffic pole at a busy intersection, where she stopped and tapped her hoof. “Find the button,” Edie said. Panda raised her head inches from the pole so Edie could run her hand along Panda’s nose to find and press the “walk” signal button.

Edie isn’t the only blind person who uses a guide horse instead of a dog — there’s actually a Guide Horse Foundation that’s been around nearly a decade.

Go, Panda, go! This is a much better Panda than the South Park Sexual Harassment Panda.

Assorted animals are out there helping people in all sorts of real and questionable ways. This is leading to legal battles over rights of disabled people to use service animals to help them with their disabilities.

They’re all showing up in stores and in restaurants, which is perfectly legal because the Americans With Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) requires that service animals be allowed wherever their owners want to go.

Some people enjoy running into an occasional primate or farm animal while shopping. Many others don’t. This has resulted in a growing debate over how to handle these animals, as well as widespread suspicion that people are abusing the law to get special privileges for their pets. Increasingly, business owners, landlords and city officials are challenging the legitimacy of noncanine service animals and refusing to accommodate them. Animal owners are responding with lawsuits and complaints to the Department of Justice. This August, the Arizona Game and Fish Department ordered a woman to get rid of her chimpanzee, claiming that she brought it into the state illegally — she disputed this and sued for discrimination, arguing that it was a diabetes-assistance chimp trained to fetch sugar during hypoglycemic episodes.

Another case in the article involves a bipolar guy with psychotic and homicidal tendencies whose parrot calms him down. Read the description of him in the article. I wouldn't want him as a neighbor.

Sadie rides around town on Eggers’s back in a bright purple backpack specially designed to hold her cage. When he gets upset, she talks him down, saying: “It’s O.K., Jim. Calm down, Jim. You’re all right, Jim. I’m here, Jim.”

If a guy with homicidal tendencies (he admits to them) gets calmed down by a parrot then I say let him walk around with a parrot. I realize they can be noisy. A breeding pair of parrots got lose in Santa Barbara several years ago and as a result sometimes around dusk a dozen parrots nest in a tree near where I live and they chat up a big loud conversation. Definitely lends a more exotic jungle atmosphere to the area. But a parrot that calms down a neurologically messed up and dangerous guy is a parrot that is doing a good job.

The ability to classify pets as service animals has been abused and the article reports airplanes becoming modern day Noah's Arks. Well, so far I haven't had the luck to go on a flight that has chimps and parrots in passenger seats. How about you?

Looking into the future (a futures angle is a requirement here) one can see where all this leads: genetically engineered service animals. Granted, stem cell therapies, gene therapies, and tissue engineering will solve a lot of problems with blindness, severed spinal nerves, shriveled muscles, and deteriorated joints. So human disability should become much more rare. But I see a big future for animals genetically customized to serve important functions like "woof woof" to indicate you are about to hit people in a cross walk or that car that has braked ahead of you while you were engrossed in a cell phone conversation. Pets are going to need to pay attention for us as our gadgets become ever more alluring distractions.

Some might choose chimps as driving assistants. I figure with enough genetic enhancement that chimps could take over the actual task of driving. Then people will be able to text message in their cars without risking a ticket or charge of involuntary manslaughter for doing it.

But the genetically engineered service animals will eventually face stiff competition from artificial intelligences. Will the A.I.'s take over before pet genetic engineering hits full swing?

Update: Okay, I see that people outside of America are especially unlikely to know the legendary Mr. Ed. He's important because he dramatizes the future of horsedom.

Here's another excerpt.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 January 04 01:36 PM  Evolution Animals Helpers

Guillaume Theoret said at January 4, 2009 2:15 PM:

Any pills or vitamins you can suggest to treat my cultural deprivation? =)

Audacious Epigone said at January 6, 2009 11:26 AM:

If a guy with homicidal tendencies (he admits to them) gets calmed down by a parrot then I say let him walk around with a parrot.

Hehe. RP doesn't always do futuristic and high-tech--he just as well dispenses simple profundities!

And aren't you too young for Mr. Ed? Weren't you just a toddler when the series was running? I realize you were probably a precocious one, but still... I recognized the reference because of an allusion to the show on The Simpsons.

Randall Parker said at January 6, 2009 8:04 PM:


I watched Mr. Ed in re-runs. I also watched Our Gang Comedy and similar fare in re-runs. Ditto Bewitched. Ditto The Jetsons. Ditto some other great stuff. Get Smart too.

Knacker said at January 21, 2009 11:32 AM:

I can really relate to the bird calming that guy down. I went to a pet store one day, and they had a couple of sun conures out to show some people, playing with them. They were extremely awesome... I would have bought one then and there if they weren't over $500. I don't know if it was a cuteness reaction, or if they just seem really intelligent or what, but I don't get it from cats or dogs or anything like that. Birds for some reason I just relate to. They always brings a smile to my face.

zozopaw said at July 21, 2011 5:36 PM:

I would have to disagree with this as i know someone who has a horse and someone who has a dog and the girl with the horse got ran over and almost died when she was better they then got her a dog and she never even came close to getting ran over again. And the girl with the dog has never hurt herself because of that dog she had in the first place.

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