BALTIMORE – Baltimore City Public Schools’ board of commissioners approved a new policy Tuesday to allow the use of service animals, including both dogs and miniature horses.
The new policy, which covers the use of service animals in schools by students, staff and visitors, states that school officials must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into schools and other district facilities, but cannot inquire about the disability itself, the Baltimore Sun reports.
The board of commissioners defined permissible service animals as dogs, or miniature horses “under certain circumstances.” School officials must determine whether a “miniature horse’s presence in the specific facility compromises legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation,” the policy reads.
“According to the new policy, the special education office, along with the district’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Title IX Compliance, must ensure animals have a suitable rest place, can relieve themselves, and do not trigger allergic reactions,” the Sun reports.
There’s currently no students in the district using service animals, “be it miniature horses or dogs,” but those interested in making arrangements can contact the special education office, district spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said.
Debra Hopkins, mini horse breeder at Hopkins Heavensent Miniatures, told WJZ she’s “surprised it’s taken this long” for school officials to recognize the benefits of the roughly three-foot-tall, 200-pound horses.
“I think people think about horses in a very different way than they think about dogs, and that’s why it’s taken a little bit of time,” she said.
The Cecil County breeder said the miniature horses perform the same functions as a guide dog, but up to 35 years, or about 20 years longer than most dogs.
“A longer life span, so that training and time and energy you put into them will be put to good use a lot longer,” she said. “I’m just really excited more and more people are recognizing the use (and) ability of these horses.”
Alison Stonecypher, operations director with the American Miniature Horse Association, cited the longer life of horses as well as their “very loving and loyal personalities” as big benefits, as well. Stonecypher said the miniature horses are also typically less intimidating to young children.
“People take them really well,” she told the Sun, adding that the horses have been growing in popularity as service animals in recent years.