Dogs And Mini Horses – But Not Pets – OK’d As Support Animals In Belmont Schools


In Sarah Hale’s nursery rhyme, Mary’s lamb followed her to school one day and “[t]hat was against the rule.”

While that remains the case for lambs, snakes, rodents, llamas and most other mammals and reptiles, Belmont students can now bring dogs or miniature horses to class after the Belmont School Committee approved policy allowing “service animals” to assist pupils inside the town’s six school buildings.

According to School Superintendent John Phelan, the policy was driven by a request from a student and their parents, the first time anyone has sought to use a service animal in Belmont schools.

Following existing guidelines in use at nearby towns and state and federal law, the committee’s policy subcommittee created very specific wording on what constitutes a service animal, so the family pet is unlikely to make the grade. “A service animal performs some of the functions and tasks that individuals with disabilities cannot perform themselves,” reads the new policy. Under the new rules, these animals will need to certified and trained to handle their duties.

Examples include guiding the blind, alerting the deaf, pulling a wheelchair, assisting those who hav’e seizures and alerting a diabetics who experiencing the effects of low blood sugar.

If the animal’s task is not readily apparent, such as those that provide emotional and anxiety assistance, the parents of the student will be required to answer a pair of questions: 1). Is the animal required because of the student’s disability, and 2). What work and task has the animal been trained to do for the student with the disability.

The role of animals as emotional support services has come under fire this week as the US Department of Transportation is ready to permit airlines to stop accepting those animals on planes, only allowing service dogs. Airlines have argued that many passengers are using the currently loose rules to claim household pets are service animals which allows them to ride for free.

The school district is requiring that all animals comply with rules and standards:

  • the animal must be harnessed, leashed or tethered unless those interfere with do its job.
  • the district doesn’t assume or take custody of any part of the animal’s care – it won’t feed it on school grounds.
  • And it must be housebroken for obvious reasons.

The mini horses will have their own regulations including if the equine is too big or heavy for the building and if it ”compromises the legitimate safety requirements” necessary for the safe operation of certain schools. In addition, if the horse causes others to have an allergic reaction, the animal will be located in a specific area of the building.

As for other animals, future requests for an emotional support peacock (United refused the bird from flying in the cabin) or pot-belly pig (Websites exist to do just that), Phelan said each request would be handled individually and only if they are accepted, will the school’s policies be altered.