September 4, 2008

My Li'l Pony

Print More

Once, a teacher wrote a note to my parents that I have a “keen eye for details” and a “quick wit.” Who knows if this is true, but I’m gonna take these compliments and run with them. And then find absurd items to write about and put all of it into a column. Hello, everyone, my name is Lauren. Welcome to my space.
Something about animals helping humans really tugs at my heartstrings — truly. Maybe I read Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul too frequently growing up, who knows. All I know is that I quickly grow verclempt watching a guide dog sit loyally near its appreciative owner, or maneuver deftly both itself and its owner through a busy city street to the intended destination.
But since — come on, let’s face it — guide dogs are pretty passé (like velour gaucho pants), biology and spliced genes have graced our lives with a new wonder: the miniature guide pony. Topping out at about roughly the same stature and weight as a full-grown German Shepherd, this little mutant has enriched lucky recipients’ lives since 1999.
Besides being a 1:8 scale model to their full-grown horsey brethren, these enthusiastic equines are adapted to fit the hustle and bustle of everyday life; so as not to hurt their tender hooves on the sidewalk or scuff the mall’s linoleum floor, they wear tiny sneakers. Unreal! Preposterous! you say? Nay!
Certain start-up companies sell custom tiny tennies made specifically for you and your pony friend. Copped a new pair of Pumas but you’re worried that you won’t be able to coordinate with your pony? No sweat — just get it a pair of Reebucks and call it a day. Fancy a more Western approach? They’ve got you covered in that rodeo, too: Let your horse take the reins with its own set of cowboy boots! The website cautions, however, that these boots may be a bit too fashion-forward: “[While] the high length protects the lower legs …some Guide Horse users felt that the decorative spurs were a bit over-the-top.”
Just stop horsin’ around, Lauren! Get serious! Well, you’re right: I have been condescending a bit, despite the fact that guide ponies serve a serious social function, if only for a certain niche. So let’s be real — why ponies, really? The website states a few reasons for precedence over a canine guide, centering mostly on lifespan. While guide dogs’ working longevity is only around a decade, the website touts a guide pony lifespan at about 25-35 years. What’s more, a guide pony can support an owner with muscular weakness or degeneration — strength that a guide dog cannot provide. Additionally, because horses have a shorter domesticated history as pets, the website notes, “Horses are not addicted to human affection and will stand quietly when on duty.” For those phobic of dogs or of emotional attachment, a guide pony may be for you.
But let’s not exclude other service animals: don’t forget the primate kingdom! Ever wanted a monkey to wait on you hand and foot? Now it’s possible with Helping Hand Monkeys. They, like the guide ponies, perform a very real, very necessary service: to help quadriplegics accomplish simple, everyday tasks that would be other-wise impossible due to injury. As stated on their website, “A monkey’s natural antics and playfulness lead to the synergy between a monkey helper and his or her companion. Our monkeys use their hands to perform functional tasks that no other assistance animals can accomplish.” These monkeys can turn pages of a book, reach that high shelf or pick up dropped objects.
Have you ever read Roald Dahl’s The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me in which a young protagonist enlists the help of a Giraffe, a Pelican and a small monkey to transform a decrepit candy store into a booming window-washing business, back into a booming candy business? Well, even if you haven’t enjoyed this jolly tale of crime-stopping and merry-making, I imagine the monkey character functions much the same across both situations: our primate friend is spry enough to reach any nook and/or cranny, and has enough intellectual wit to differentiate between objects.
Apparently, these capuchin monkeys — the breed most sociable and apt to taking orders — go through a careful screening process (a.k.a. “monkey college”) where they develop the sensitivity necessary to work with disabled individuals. This “monkey college “ is commensurate to the training process any guide dog or guide pony attends, and ensures consistent results. These monkeys, like the guide ponies, live a good 20-30 years and can provide years of loyal service and unadulterated joy to the lives of appreciative clients.
The world may be a strange place — only made stranger by science — but I sure am glad to live in a world where I know I can rely on small, specially-trained animals, ready to serve my every need, disability or otherwise. Now if only I could condition a cat to lick the salt off my skin post-gym workout so that I wouldn’t have to shower.

If interested in either service, please visit their respective websites:;

Lauren Herget is a new columnist in the Arts section. Catch her thoughts on random, obscure and just plain weird things in the world alternate Thursdays in Daze.