Comfort Creatures

Support animals help patients, but that lizard may be against the law

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Photograph by Bobby Doherty for TIME

Many people with depression or anxiety are being prescribed emotional support animals: dogs, cats, pigs, hedgehogs and, yes, iguanas.

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That skepticism intensifies when non--ESA owners must share close quarters with ESAs. Livingood says airlines are allowed flexibility and discretion on a case-by-case basis: they can require that the animal be caged, placed under the seat or even relocated into cargo. Likewise, property owners and managers can evict a disruptive ESA, but in doing so, they also risk discrimination lawsuits.

Case in point: Kendra Velzen, who was diagnosed with chronic depression nine years ago, enrolled at Grand Valley State University in Michigan in 2010. She planned to attend with her ESA, a guinea pig named Blanca, but the school balked. Bringing Blanca into the dormitory was against school policy.

"I presented them with a doctor's letter because I knew the law protected my right to have this animal," says Velzen, now 29. She eventually took legal action against the school. Last month, she won a $40,000 settlement affirming her right to have an ESA on the Grand Valley campus.

As petey the pig's legal battle drags on, Danielle Forgione is trying to sell her home in a still slow market and worries she won't make her July 1 deadline. Her kids have offered to sell their toys to help with the move, but it's all about finding a buyer. Meanwhile, her co-op board has sent her eviction papers. Forgione has been in touch with New York state senator Tony Avella about overturning the city's ban on pigs, but time is running out for Petey.

Despite the stress and sadness brought on by an arrangement intended to alleviate stress and sadness, Forgione has no regrets and isn't backing down. "I feel like we're teaching our kids responsibility," she says. "If we disposed of him like they told us to, we'd be teaching our kids to give up. I think he's worth it."

Recently, Forgione got word that her father wasn't responding to chemotherapy and that his doctors were effectively ceasing his treatment. She broke down. "I was crying, and then Petey comes over to me and starts rooting his nose into my hand and laid in my lap. It was like he knew," she says. "He makes things so much easier."

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