To the People Who Mocked Having a Turkey as a Therapy Animal

I recently read an article that I felt bemoaned comfort/therapy animals as an unnecessary entitlement in society and complained of a turkey accompanying someone on a plane. It was noted that the person provided documentation from a doctor for having a turkey for comfort/emotional therapy. The article seemed condescending to me, and I believe it assumed people with therapy animals “use and abuse the system.” In my opinion, that kind of language creates an atmosphere where disabled people must constantly “prove” themselves.

Captain Tom Bunn, who is quoted in the story, is a former pilot who now helps people overcome fear of flying. He called into question both the proof/documentation that people with therapy animals provide and the type of animal that can act as therapeutic, saying:

Any therapist can sign off on any kind of animal. Science has proven that when dogs look at you with total devotion, it produces oxytocin, a hormone that shuts down the fear mechanism. The turkey, I don’t think so.”

I feel Tom Bunn is spreading doubt and animosity toward disability. I felt the article also had a level of fear-mongering that the presence of animals constitutes a threat to others, be it allergies, messes or animal attacks. The comments under the article were repugnant and hateful to me, from disdain for the disabled to threats of violence if the commenter is faced with animals on their flight. They seemed to forget or ignore the positive results such therapy animals have provided so many with disabilities, including our wounded veterans. Not to mention the rescue of the animals themselves!

I have bias to disclose: I am on the autism spectrum. As I write this, I am surrounded by myriad birds — a pigeon on my shoulder, a chicken nestled under my arm and a starling sitting atop my tablet are just a few of the birds I care for. Many were rescued/raised by my own loving hands. You could say I have saved their lives, but the reality is, they have and continue to save mine.

I’ve never connected well with people, always feeling like an fearful alien among humans. I couldn’t make eye contact or express my thoughts without fumbling and stumbling on my words. I’ve been ridiculed for this throughout my life. But when I’m around animals, I suddenly find myself. I can converse about them confidently, I have a point of focus for eye contact​, and I feel diminished anxiety in interaction. When an animal is present, it’s like a miracle! Over the years, I’ve found comfort and life lessons with many rescued animal companions, such as turkeys.

With regard to the idea that a turkey can’t act as emotional support, one event stands out in my mind. My husband, sister-in-law and I once held a yard sale. Instead of hiding from strangers, our turkey accompanied me in the yard. As he strutted and displayed for anyone who stopped, I was able to answer strangers’ questions, encourage them to pet and hug my big, friendly turkey and take pictures of people posing with him. That day was just one of many wherein that sweet turkey helped me interact and just generally cope with life. He was not the first and won’t be the last turkey to impact my life.

I could go on and on about how animals (including three very special turkeys) have helped and continue to help me in life, but I fear the detractors would still call foul/fowl on the benefits of comfort/emotional therapy animals, especially unusual ones. If you ever hear or think such things yourself, now you know of at least one person whose life has meaning thanks to “odd” comfort/emotional therapy animals.

A collage photos of a woman with her turkey therapy animals
A collage of photos of Darcey with her turkey therapy animals

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