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Miniature horse becomes guide for blind Muslim woman

April 10, 2009 |  1:02 pm

Mona Ramouni, a Michigan woman who became blind shortly after birth, wanted to have more independence. But for Ramouni, who is a practicing Sunni Muslim, a leader dog was not an option.  Many Muslims view dogs as unclean, and Ramouni, who lives with her family in the suburbs of Detroit, respected her parents' wishes that she not bring one into the home.

However, according to Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter, many Muslims see horses as "regal animals."

Enter Cali (short for Mexicali Rose), a miniature horse who stands 2 1/2 feet tall and weighs about 125 pounds.  Cali is one of a small number of miniature horses that's been trained as a guide animal in the U.S.  "I want a horse that will be a partner for the next 30 or so years. ... What I really want is to be able to take her places and go places with her that neither of us ever would have been able to do without each other," Ramouni told the Associated Press

Miniature horses often live into their 30s, making them superior to leader dogs in at least one way: longevity. 

"It's made [Ramouni] so much more empowered," said Kelli Finger, a coworker at Ramouni's workplace, where she proofreads textbooks in Braille.  Cali has also gotten along well with other, more conventional, guide animals at the office, Finger added.

Mona Ramouni rides a SMART bus to her job with her guide horse, Cali, in Lincoln Park, Michigan From the Associated Press:

Ramouni says having Cali as a guide opens up new opportunities, but the U.S. government may soon tighten the definition of a guide animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act to exclude farm creatures such as horses.

The new ADA regulations are under review and final language will be issued later this year, according to Justice Department spokesman Alejandro Miyar.

In the meantime, Ramouni said she hopes to pursue a doctorate in child psychology at the [University of Michigan's] main campus in Ann Arbor.

The benefits go beyond the practical, she says.

Before Cali, "I had basically given up. I mean, I had been to the point where I thought, 'I'm going to get nothing out of my life,'" Ramouni said. "And having Cali ... showed me that I had forgotten about all the optimism I had as a kid. When I was a kid, I thought I could do anything. I thought everything was possible."

Additional training for Ramouni and Cali may be necessary before the horse can take up residence at Ramouni's home  (a shed was recently built in the family's backyard).  

For more information on guide horses, check out the Guide Horse Foundation.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: Associated Press
Photo: Ramouni rides a SMART bus to her job with Cali in tow.  Credit: Carlos Osorio/Associated Press.

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