Slithering species aren't allowed in her home in Council Bluffs, Omaha, Nebraska, but Darla McGinnis wants the city to change the code. She said she uses two ball pythons for therapy. "Who's to tell us what kind of animal we can love?" she asks. The pythons are named Zagan and Draco. She has owned them for years and says they are more than just pets, they're a form of emotional support .
"I've had anxiety problems my whole life," she said. "Medication never helped, and then I got Zagan and he helped."
However, emotional support animals are not considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so they don't get the same legal protections as a guide dog. They're also still banned in Council Bluffs.
"In Council Bluffs, we do recognise ESA animals, absolutely," Galen Barrett, the head of Council Bluffs animal control, said. "Now, that does not circumvent code. That doesn't override code by any means."
For now, McGinnis visits Zagan and Draco across the river in Omaha. She said if the ordinance doesn't change, she would consider moving.
"It's great being able to see them and hold them," she said.
"It's like seeing your kids again." First, she said, she's fighting, researching and showing up at City Council meetings, engaging her community.
"It's not for everyone, but for those that do, I'm asking for their support," she said. "People are afraid of dogs, too."
McGinnis is circulating a written petition through Council Bluffs to change the ordinance. She also has a Change.org petition with more than 670 signatures, but said city officials told her they will only count physical signatures, not ones online.