A WOMAN with anxiety and depression has used Mental Health Awareness Week to praise Bradford venues, including Valley Parade, for allowing her to bring her emotional support skunk along to public events.

Paula Bavill, who is from Wakefield, admits that she is a geek at heart and loves to attend Comic-Cons but she says she struggles with the large confined crowds at these events

This is where her pet skunk Pongo comes in. On a lead and harness at all times, he allows Paula to focus her mind, concentration and ears on him.

She says it lets her spend a few comfortable hours at an event, browse stalls and have the same opportunities as mentally well people.

It is not just skunks. Other fascinating emotional support animals include pigs, turkeys and even kangaroos.

Ms Bavill was delighted to find that Pongo the skunk was welcomed with open arms at Valley Parade at their Comic-Con on March 3 and she says they were incredibly supportive of her mental health needs.

She then went to Bradford Industrial Museum this Sunday and staff were so keen to mingle with her and Pongo that they took some skunk selfies.

Unlike in America though, UK venues do not necessarily have policies or guidelines allowing emotional support animals (ESA).

This caused Ms Bavill major problems when she tried to attend HorrorCon at the Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham last week.

She said: “I asked if I could bring my ESA to enable me to attend HorrorCon last weekend.

“I appreciate this is at their discretion but sadly their response was a poor excuse.

“Most disappointing was that at no point did they take the opportunity to offer to look into the issue and risk assess if I wished to attend future events.

“Even more upsetting was their total lack of attempt to be inclusive and how there was no offer of alternative support or suggestions on how else they could help me to attend.

“I am reaching out, not to criticise Magna, but to encourage businesses and venues to think about how they can make their service more inclusive for those with mental health needs to support them in living as fulfilling a life as they can.”

In a statement, a Magna spokesperson said: “Magna was contacted last week regarding bringing a pet skunk to an event as an emotional support animal for a customer with social anxiety.

“Magna allows service animals into our Events Centre and Science attraction but this is the first time we have been approached regarding bringing a pet as an emotional support animal.

“Our management team met and undertook a full review of the request and concluded that the animal in question was unsuitable in premises that prepare and serve food.

“This was not discriminatory, it was a food hygiene and health and safety matter.

“Registered service animals are trained to perform a function, or do a job, that his or her owner can’t perform on their own due to a physical, intellectual, or emotional disability.

“These animals may, of course, provide emotional support and comfort, but they are specifically trained.

“Emotional support animals are not required to receive training as part of their designation, which means: not every emotional support animal can be counted on to behave well in public.

“Magna contacted the customer to explain that our management team had looked into their complaint further and informed her that her ESA would unfortunately not be allowed entrance to Magna’s premises.

“We were sorry if this meant she now felt unable to attend the event.”