Public transport ban for pets upheld despite plea over support lizard's cancer diagnosis

One NSW man has gone above and beyond in the quest to save his companion.

An Aussie pet owner desperately seeking cancer treatment for his beloved lizard is calling on the state to amend rules prohibiting pets on public transport after he was rejected from travelling with the animal from the Hunter Valley to Sydney for an oncologist appointment.

Maitland resident Jordan Bonner raised his much-loved central bearded dragon, Spike, from infancy when he rescued and "rehabilitated him from poor health" back in 2018. He said that over the years, Spike has become more than a just pet, helping him overcome his own struggles with anxiety and depression.

Now eight, Spike has been diagnosed with a rare type of cancer — Chromatophoroma — a quick-growing, malignant tumour that originates from the pigment cells in reptiles and amphibians.

With treatment options limited, and the closest available facility to Mr Bonner being in North Ryde in Sydney, some two hours away, the pet owner has been left struggling for a long-term solution.

Maitland man Jordan Bonner and his pet lizard Spike.
Maitland man Jordan Bonner says he'll soon be out of options if he can't carry his beloved pet on public transport for cancer treatment. Source: Supplied.

'More than just dogs registered as support animals'

He said he's been forced to rely on relatives to drive him between the two cities, which has put a strain on relationships due to the fact they have had to take time off work to make the trip.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia amid a push to allow pets on public transport, Mr Bonner said "in this day and age there's more than just dogs that are registered as service animals" and in the future "disallowing pets on public transport could definitely be a literal matter of life or death."

"In thinking more about the matter I can't help but wonder whether the response would have been different if my pet was a more conventional species like a dog," Mr Bonner said, of the response received from Transport for NSW (TfNSW) when he asked about a travel exemption.

Spike the bearded dragon.
The little animal appears to be on the mend, with another checkup on October 30. Source: Supplied.

"I can't remember word for word, but (their response) was essentially a pretty generic 'no', with no acknowledgement of the stated reason of why I was inquiring about the matter, which led me to think that whoever responded didn't bother to read my full email request or if they did they simply didn't care."

Caring for Spike 'helped me find a purpose'

Having rescued Spike when he was severely underweight, Mr Bonner said he'd be shattered should anything happen to the animal. "I have a special bond with him," he said. "It took time and patience to help him, and looking at him today compared to how he was back then, you wouldn’t think he's the same lizard.

"I have my own struggles with depression and anxiety and I've found that in caring for him, it has helped me to find a purpose and given me something to strive for, as I have since found an interest in building my credentials pursuing a career path with the rehabilitation and rescue of reptiles."

Maitland man Jordan Bonner and his pet lizard Spike.
Spike has endured a number of complex procedures in the bid to rid him of his cancer. Source: Supplied.

Complex surgeries continue

Spike has required a number of complex treatments in the bid remove his cancer, including a biopsy, surgeries to extract a tumour found in his oesophagus, several CT scans, a second operation to clean an infection that appeared in the throat incision, a specialised diet implemented via a feeding tube, several blood tests, and two separate rounds of antibiotics.

"I've picked up new antibiotics for him which will be given intramuscular once a day for three to four weeks until his next check up at North Ryde which will be the 30th October," Mr Bonner said.

"Where we go from there will depend on how his recovery is going but the hope is that the feeding tube may be able to be removed at that stage. For now he is starting to be reintroduced to normal solid foods and is seeming to be handling that alright.

"At this stage things are looking good, but it's still very much a wait and see situation regarding how many more trips to North Ryde I'll need to make with him.

"It's definitely been tough with a family member having to take many days off work to help with transport, which is eating into their available vacation days and financially is fairly expensive, given he's classed as an exotic pet so it's been well over $5,000 total so far."

Only 'assistance animals with valid accreditation' allowed

A spokesperson for TfNSW told Yahoo they allow support animals on public transport, however they must have valid accreditation.

"We know many passengers are pet owners and may benefit from taking their pets on public transport," the spokesperson said.

"However, these benefits must be carefully weighed up with the needs of other passengers, including children and those with disabilities, and our transport workforce. Assistance animals with a valid form of accepted accreditation are allowed on all public transport in NSW.

"In accordance with industry recognition, therapy animals, facility animals and emotional support animals are considered companion animals. These animals do not have public access rights and can only travel using the arrangements provided for travelling with pets."

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