Emotional support animal draws questions from neighbors in Longs

Emotional support animal draws questions from neighbors in Longs

LONGS, SC (WMBF) - Shortly after moving to Longs, a woman received a knock on her door from Horry County officials alerting her she had 10 days to get rid of one of her animals.

Former Connecticut resident Robin McManus said it wasn’t quite the warm southern welcome she was expecting.

This all came because McManus owns a pet pig and the area that she lives in Longs is in a residential zone that does not allow livestock.

However, Phoebe the pig is not just a pet; she’s an emotional support animal.

“If someone had told me this, I wouldn’t have believed them but because I have experienced it myself, it is just an amazing thing,” McManus said of her bond with Phoebe.

Two-and-a-half years ago, McManus adopted Phoebe as a piglet with no intention of making her an emotional support animal.

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Shortly after, McManus said she lost both her parents and went through an extremely emotional time with increased anxiety levels.

“After several months of therapy, the therapist asked me, ‘What makes you feel good?’ and I kind of chuckled and said, ‘My pet pig,’” McManus said. “We started talking about an issue that was very difficult for me and when I became upset, Phoebe came over and laid her head on my leg and just kind of soothed me.”

McManus said after her therapist realized the duo’s connection, the therapist wrote a letter certifying Phoebe as an emotional support animal.

“Until that point, I just never thought of it that way but since that time we spoke of her being an emotional support animal and I have cut down my medications tremendously,” McManus said.

This was two years ago. Just a few weeks ago, McManus took this paperwork to county officials and her case went before a board who decided she could keep Phoebe.

Horry County officials did not comment on this specific case but did say the county, “complies with state and federal fair housing laws. An applicant must demonstrate that a domesticated animal could not assist with the effects of the disability.”

Under the Fair Housing Act, accommodation must be granted to individuals who use assistance animals.

The law stated an assistance animal either “works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person's disability.”

The act also does not limit what type of animal can be labeled as an assistance animal.

Robbie Kopp, the director of advocacy and community access for Able South Carolina, explained this act helps residents live life on their own and these animals can be very important for that function.

“We see emotional support animals a little bit more often with folks that may have a mental health diagnosis, psychiatric disability, and that support animal lets them feel kind of safe in their own living place and if you don’t feel safe where you live, you typically don’t live there very long,” Kopp said.

He added the Fair Housing Act allows individuals to make adjustment in policies or local codes if they submit requests.

These requests are evaluated on an individual basis and can grant residents the ability to build wheelchair ramps or allow animals in housing situations where they normally would not be allowed.

An emotional support animal, however, is different than a service animal.

“It’s not like I can take her into the grocery store or I can take her to a restaurant,” McManus said. “There are certain places she just doesn’t go, and I don’t abuse that.”

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) does allow service animals in public places. The definition of a service animal under the ADA is limited to dogs and does not include emotional support.

“A service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability,” the act defined.

When it comes to airplanes, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows both service animals and emotional support animals to fly with their owners.

Kopp said the varying definition of service animal and disability between the three acts can be confusing.

“They’re all dealing with three different definitions and they aren’t sure which one is right and the answer is they are all right in the right circumstance, but that may change down the road,” Kopp said.

Kopp said although emotional support animals are not trained for a specific task, they still provide a purpose.

“It is a very real thing and it’s different for everyone,” McManus said. “It depends on the bond between the animal and the human. I don’t know how it happened but I’m glad it did.”

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