BISMARCK — Miniature horses could soon be trotting into local stores and businesses with a bill the North Dakota Legislature is considering that would designate the compact creatures as service animals.
Current state law only defines a service animal as a dog "trained to do work, perform tasks, or provide assistance for the benefit of an individual with a disability."
House Bill 1230 would add miniature horses to the list to align with current federal regulation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Some of the tasks that service dogs and miniature horses can perform include pulling a wheelchair, assisting with balance, picking up objects from the ground or helping in medical crises, according to the bill.
Miniature horses are part of a provision under the ADA that states that entities that comply with the ADA must permit miniature horses "where reasonable." The ADA defines a miniature horse as a horse that's 24-34 inches tall and weighs 70-100 pounds.
The ADA lays out several assessment factors to determine if a miniature horse can enter a facility, including whether the horse is housebroken and under control, whether the facility is capable of accommodating the horse and whether the horse compromises public safety.
Advocates are supporting the bill mainly to reduce confusion about which animals qualify as service animals.
"Having North Dakota Century Code align with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) removes confusion as to which animals specifically can be considered for service animal work," said Jenny BrodKorb, executive director of Service Dogs for America in Jud, N.D., in written testimony.
Last session, the North Dakota Legislature passed a bill that made it illegal to falsely claim a pet is a service animal.
BrodKorb said there are few miniature horses in the world working as service animals. Miniature horses are best known for helping people who are blind or have visual impairments, according to the U.S. Service Animals website.
Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.