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The Rockies.Life Staff

Feeling Sheepish? Okotoks Adds Livestock to Emotional Support Roster

Okotoks is launching a program to allow livestock to be emotional support animals for a one-year trial.

When you hear “emotional support animal,” what animal first comes to mind? It’s probably not a cow, goat, or pot-belly pig, but that’s what you can soon expect in Okotoks!

Located just south of Calgary, Okotoks plans to launch a program allowing livestock emotional support animals (LESA) in the town for a one-year trial. 

Unlike service animals, LESAs don’t require training or help their owners with daily activities. Their main purpose is to provide companionship and emotional support.

Meanwhile, a service animal is trained to assist a disabled person. Dogs are commonly used to guide the visually impaired or warn persons of an oncoming seizure. 

You can’t just buy a cow and call it a LESA. 

A LESA is only allowed if a mental health professional believes the animal improves at least one characteristic of a person’s mental health. 

A new resident brought the idea for LESAs in Okotoks before Councillor Brent Robinson during a town council meeting. 

“They have an animal that’s described as an emotional support animal, and upon moving to town, they weren’t able to bring this animal with them,” Robinson told Town and Country Today.

There are many rules and regulations LESA owners must abide by, including inspecting and maintaining the area where the animal is kept. 

As mentioned previously, a mental health professional’s support letter is required before a person can get a license.

License distribution will be decided on a case-by-case basis by Okotoks Municipal Enforcement

“You can’t let the animal sort of run around; it can’t cause noxious fumes, it can’t cause health risks to other people around it,” said Robinson.

LESAs do not have the same rights as service animals and must be kept on the owner’s property. They cannot be taken to an off-leash park or public place. 

Couple with a support dog
According to a recent study of 300 participants with emotional support dogs, almost all participants reported increased feelings of security, independence, energy, and reduced stress |  Helena Lopes | Pexels 

Too Big For Your Britches! 

We have some disappointing news for Okotoks residents hoping to own an emotional support horse or cow. 

The maximum allowed weight for LESAs in Okotoks will be about 400 pounds, meaning larger animals are not allowed. 

The average horse weighs between 900 and 1,200 pounds, whereas the average cow weighs about 1,200 pounds.  

Flirty the miniature horse service animal. Miniature horses also make good service animals and can help guide people with visual impairments
Flirty the miniature horse service animal. Miniature horses also make good service animals and can help guide people with visual impairments | Flirty the Miniature Service Horse | Facebook

The town originally planned for a limit of about 500 pounds but decided to shave off about a hundred pounds, which leaves room for goats, sheep, some pigs, and even miniature horses. 

The thought of owning an emotional support cow sounds fun, but cleaning up over 100 pounds of poop daily does not. 

The town will collect data during the pilot program and release a one-year follow-up report that will include a final decision on whether or not the program will continue.

Okotoks’ program was modelled after a similar program in Calgary, where the city changed its Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw to allow residents to keep LESAs on their property. 

Only ten Calgary residents took advantage of the program, including Nikki Pike, who lives with three emotional support hens named Nugget, Nibble, and Noodle. 

Pike was sexually abused as a girl and has suffered from anxiety and depression since, but her chickens help her cope. 

“When I’m holding them, I’m feeling, I’m smelling, I’m hearing. What calms me down is all of those sensory aspects of being with them,” she told CBC News

Okotoks town council unanimously voted for the program, which they hope will be more successful than in Calgary. 

“My main reason I’m supporting this bylaw is the mental health piece of it because I do know that companion animals really do impact quality of life,” said Okotoks Councillor Rachel Swendseid.

Okotoks hasn’t revealed when the program will launch but we hope it’s sooner than later!

Nikki Pike with her emotional supports hens
Nikki Pike with her emotional supports hens | Jeff McIntosh | The Canadian Press | CBC News

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