28-year-old Mona Ramouni an attentive Sunni Muslim lost her sight to retina damage, a common side effect of premature birth. She has lived, studied and worked in the Detroit suburbs all her life relying on her family to guide her around. As a Braille textbooks proof-reader, she craved more independence. Respecting the feelings of her Jordanian-born parents, who like many Muslims consider dogs to be unclean animals, she also accepted that having a Guide Dog in the home was out of the question.
However, Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter, says however, that although most Muslims believe dogs can violate ritual purity, horses are viewed as "regal animals," though, "there would be concerns about bringing a horse into certain establishments and areas of worship as well."
Cali, a miniature 3-year-old former show horse, official title, Mexicali Rose standing about 30 inches tall and weighing about 125 pounds. "This is a really awesome little horse,"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 said.
There are only about five miniature horses besides Cali, trained as guides for the blind in the United States according to Cali's trainer, 61-year-old Dolores Arste.
Ramouni paid for the horse, $450 a month for Arste's training and other expenses out of her savings. Since she has had no experience of working with a guide dog, she has had to learn from scratch how to control a guide animal and has worked hard with Cali. "I've never met a young woman with so much dedication," Arste says. Cali’s training took place in both Hatfield, Ark., and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.,where Arste taught her how to get in and out of vehicles, guide through crowds and stand still indoors.
Additional training may take an additional two months before Cali can join Ramouni for good, taking up residence in a newly erected shed on Ramouni's lawn. "Taking on a horse as a guide is a huge commitment, same as a dog but with more physical needs," Arste, 61, says. "It is not a novelty. It is a real working animal. The horses can live into their 30s, more than twice as long as most dogs.”
Having Cali as a guide has opened up new opportunities for Ramouni, but the U.S. government may soon tighten the laws on exactly what defines 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,” ~ Justice Department spokesman Alejandro Miyar.
Ramouni, meanwhile hopes to pursue a doctorate in child psychology at the university's main campus in Ann Arbor. “The benefits go beyond the practical. 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’ 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."