Last Friday night, Larry Moyer and his wife Diana, brought their baby kangaroo into a McDonald's in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, as one does. Diana has cancer, and has apparently been using the kangaroo as a therapy animal to help her cope with her illness, which sounds adorable and also where do you even get a kangaroo in Wisconsin? (The couple actually has five of the animals, but they only bring the youngest out in public, and he was wearing a diaper and in a stroller.) Anyway, as the couple was finishing their meal, the cops showed up in response to a complaint from another customer, who apparently thought that having a kangaroo in a fast food place was illegal. The Moyers were asked to take their kangaroo, whose name is Jimmy, outside.
When the local news station that reported the story reached out to McDonald's, the company replied with a statement:
We are aware a customer called the authorities regarding this incident, who then investigated and took the steps to resolve the situation. Our policy is to make our restaurants accessible to all customers, including those with disabilities and special needs.
It's a delicately written piece of PR brilliance that leaves the question, "Hey can I take a kangaroo into McDonald's?" unresolved until the next time someone tries it.
My first response is that I don't want to meet the monster who experiences any emotion other than joy upon seeing a kangaroo at McDonald's—it adds a little sunshine to an otherwise depressing experience. But is it OK to take a kangaroo into a McDonald's, legally and ethically? And can a kangaroo really help you with your medical problems?
When I asked Dena W. Iverson, a spokesperson at the Department of Justice, about kangaroos being recognized as therapy animals in public, she shot the idea down. "There are two [animals] that are recognized under the ADA—dogs and miniature horses," she told me in an email. Indeed, a fact sheet for business owners goes deeper into the issue: "Under the ADA, 'comfort,' 'therapy,' or 'emotional support animals' do not meet the definition of a service animal."
In other words, McDonald's can let you feed quarter-pounders to your "emotional support Burmese python" if it wants, but the company is not legally required to. (Curiously, restaurants do have to let you bring in a small horse, although that provision might be trumped by the local health code.)
But in a New Yorker article last year, writer Patricia Marx experimented with stunts like taking a llama into a drug store and found that people surprisingly permissive of her phony "support animal." Where are people getting the idea that shopkeepers and bus drivers have to tolerate whatever animal you're keeping around?
The answer is that they don't know the law, or they're just being courteous. Even if you're toting around an emperor penguin that you say you need to nuzzle to stay sane, no one really has any reason to hassle you unless the penguin is making itself a nuisance. That was the gist of a conversation I had with Anne Wicklund of MrPaws.com, a company that dresses service and therapy animals, even unofficial ones. Unlike other such organizations, Wickland will put a vest on an animal only after she's satisfied that it's been properly trained. (Some other vendors would "register a Beanie Baby, as long as you send a check," according to Marx.)
Therapy animals aren't service animals according to Wicklund. "A therapy animal goes into hospitals and homes, and lets people pet them. That makes them feel good, because when you pet an animal you release a hormone called oxytocin." The training for a therapy animal varies, she told me. "It involves earning a training certificate, and being appropriately behaved, and they may or may not have to wear a vest, depending on the facility."
As for service animals, which go out in public with people, and are legally protected, the rules are clearer. "People used to try and pass of a lot of different animals, particularly potbellied pigs and cats, but they can't anymore," Wicklund said. "They're not legal, and the owners know it, but they wear a vest anyway,"
But legalities aside, should a kangaroo be out and about with people? Jimmy, the Moyers' kangaroo, was a baby, so he wasn't very disruptive. But an adult? That'd be a different story.
Kangaroos can't even live in your house comfortably, according to the website of Kangaroo Creek Farm in British Columbia. They need space to hop around, and they can cause a lot of mess. "A roo in the house will get into everything. Once it starts eating solid food, potty training goes right down the tubes too," the site says. It's also worth noting that kangaroos are poorly adapted to living around humans, because your kangaroo might die of toxoplasmosis if it ever gets near a cat.
So as a service animal, a dog beats a kangaroo any day of the week. But a roo could defeat a dog in a wrestling match no problem:
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