SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Horses could wind up being allowed in Illinois schools, stores and other public places — but only if they're specially trained to help disabled people and aren't much bigger than a golden retriever.
The state Senate voted Tuesday to add miniature horses to the list of service animals, like seeing-eye dogs, that can accompany people with disabilities. The 40-11 vote sends the measure to the Illinois House.
Miniature horses generally range from 24 inches to 34 inches tall and weigh 70 to 100 pounds, according to the disability rights section of the U.S. Department of Justice. They're already considered service animals by federal regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The horses wouldn't have unfettered access to all public places. Illinois businesses and schools could take into account the size and weight of the horse, whether the animal is controlled and housebroken or whether it would compromise safety requirements. The horses can wear backpacks or vests identifying them as service animals, but the legislation would not require such gear.
Advocates say guide horses have several characteristics that make them a valuable alternative when service dogs are not suitable. The Guide Horse Foundation says guide horses can be useful for people with severe allergies or phobias to dogs, or people who want an animal likely to live longer than a dog.
The foundation website says use of horses as helper animals began in 1999 and is still considered experimental.
Miniature horses usually have a docile nature but can be strong enough to provide support while their handler gets up from a chair. The foundation says they have shown excellent judgment and are not easily distracted by crowds.
The bill is HB3826.
— Legislation: http://www.ilga.gov
— Guide Horse Foundation: http://www.guidehorse.org
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