Nontraditional therapy animals help deal with disabilities

Animals have become a bigger part of people's health, including helping overcome lifelong struggles like dealing with panic attacks.

Many would not go ape over kisses from a llama, but seniors in one community flock to the woolly critters.

Niki Kuklenski trained her camel-like creatures as therapy animals.

"It's pretty unusual when you say you have a therapy llama. I get some pretty weird reactions," Kuklenski said.

Kuklenski's pets are part of a growing trend of nontraditional animals used for therapy in a group to provide emotional support to an owner or to perform a service for someone with a physical or psychiatric disability.

"It makes me feel pretty good knowing that we're affecting these people in a really positive way," said on volunteer.

Professor Aubrey Fine studies how birds to pigs can unleash benefits for owners with depression or other conditions.

"It changes your neurotransmitters. Even looking at fish, there's been research that has shown that being around a calm school of fish and looking at the fish actually supports the decrease of anxiety," he said.

Different federal laws allow any emotional support animal to go with people in three key places - on airplanes, at their job, or in their apartment - as long as they have a doctor's note.

"It's good for us not to judge but to kind of to try to understand what these animals do and the types of independence and support that they can provide for people," said one expert.

If you have a nontraditional animal, you can be asked for proof of the emotional support, unlike service dogs, where all businesses can only ask what task the dog is trained to perform.

Kuklenski has paperwork showing her furry friends are safe.

"When they just stand there and let people pet them or hug them or they reach down and kiss them on command, for a lot of people, that's very soothing," she added.

Handlers of therapy animals must go through a rigorous evaluation and training process. On the other hand, service dogs can be trained by anyone, including their owner, and the law does not require any special identification.
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