Service Animal Security

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Guest contribution by Erika Wolf, Missouri Guide Dog Users

Every time I step outside my front door with my guide dog, leash and harness in hand, I have a  heightened sense of security and knowledge that I’m fully equipped with the ability to successfully navigate practically any environment, even when occurrences arise where there is a profound barrier to be found in my way. Guide dogs have led me to many successful life experiences: graduating from college; working in professional work environments; traveling all over the country for conferences/conventions/specialized training opportunities; as well as attending adaptive athletic sporting events. All successes previously and currently experienced can absolutely be attributable to my guide dog escorting me effortlessly around a number of unexpected encountered obstacles.

Barbara, my current active guide of the past 15 months, is only 3 years of age, and has been professionally trained at Guide Dogs for the Blind, located in San Rafael, Ca.

The school has a large breeding colony where soon-to-be “canine hero’s” are bred and whelped within the breeding department at the school. They are then placed with an approved and thoroughly screened puppy raiser upon reaching approximately 8 weeks of age.  Young pups are placed within temporary adopted or raiser’s homes until reaching roughly 15-18 months, whereas they are returned to the school to receive formal guide-work training [guidedogs.com].

Barbara has been sufficiently trained to lead me around a variety of barricades: obstructions (such as a parked car blocking the way to a curb cut to complete a street crossing); stopping and starting at various levels of elevation; finding stairwells/flights of stairs and elevators; identifying restrooms and drinking fountains; allowing for interception of traffic at lighted controlled and uncontrolled intersections; and overall, protecting me from potential injury. My guide dog enables me full independence of my personal space as well as leading me through unfamiliar areas.

When it comes to the full integration of having a service animal in the workplace, some people may question the appropriateness of having a canine in a work setting. They could address it as a potential ‘health and safety risk’ or they may think it unfathomable a dog belongs anywhere near workers or work-related materials. These persons often will strongly object to allowing a service animal present. Typically, this arises when there is a “No Animal at Work Policy” in place, even though some current-day businesses have elected a “Work Friendly Pet Policy” at times.

Persons with a documented disability have the unequivocal, absolute affordable right to have a dog alongside them at the workplace to perform the intended tasks it has been so impeccably trained to do [askjan.org].

Title I of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which centers around principles or policies and regulations relevant to employment, does not clearly define a service dog as a reasonable concession. A written formal request for accommodation is normally required. It is to be accompanied by medical certification, unless it is clearly obvious the dog has undergone specific training designed to aid someone with a recognizable life function, such as: seeing; hearing; assisting with ambulatory needs; as well as a noticeable medical purpose such as someone experiencing a seizure or having a diabetic reaction [natlawreview.com].

Title II and III of the ADA outlines and defines state and local, including commercial, public accommodations for persons with disabilities. It has paved the road to this right, and by interfering and further impeding a blind or disabled person’s use of a  medically documented identifiable necessary tool or otherwise essential mobility device (service animal) at the workplace, continues to inadvertently perpetuate more stumbling blocks for a blind person or someone disabled.

Barriers that become created can absolutely be avoided by honoring a person’s “request of reasonable accommodation” at work [ada.gov]. As a much seasoned guide dog handler, I assure you: the ideology that there should be no working canine permitted within a work space is a long-lived misconception.  Cortisol or stress levels on the part of a disabled worker and coworkers is drastically lowered with the presence of a guide dog or service animal nearby and the overall mood or morale of the office is greatly enhanced, creating a much happier eager-to-work-as-a-team atmosphere [thriveglobal.com].

Accidents are way less likely to occur when a person is being assisted by a service animal due to the dog’s magnificent, impeccable former/formal specific guide work training.  The guide dog not only keeps a blind handler safe at work and throughout the community (allowing for full integration in societal activities), but within a professional mainstream work environment, and allows full participation in community organizational events. A guide dog becomes a blind or visually impaired person’s lifeline.

There is a high level of interconnectedness and interdependence (a gradual bond that begins to take shape over a great length of time). By requesting or insisting the dog be separated from its handler, this forces a guide dog/service animal user to forfeit his or her right to full independence.

For someone to ask or request a guide dog be left outside meeting rooms or simply in a closed office, away from other workers, is truly depriving the blind or disabled person the freedom and ability to move about independently, even though it may seem an insignificant time period.

A guide dog handler or service animal user is solely responsible for feeding/watering, relieving and picking up after the dog [nwadacenter.org].  This goes along with the handler/user being responsible for routinely exercising the specially trained animal.  Basically, attending to all the dog’s needs while at work.

There may be an effective way of creating a more welcoming work environment for workers with guide dogs/service animals by having some outdoor activities available during the lunch hour where employees within all departments could congregate at times when the weather is right.  Another way of bringing all workers together would be to offer a work-related fundraising activity that would allow for all dog owners to have their dogs present, such as in the case of having an athletic activity for the purpose of raising funds.

For example, a 5-10k walk or run, or possibly a kayak activity. Company picnics could also allow an opportunity for workers to bring all their dogs together, so long as all dogs possess gentle social manners.

The Missouri Guide Dog Users, a statewide 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization, of which I am an active- proud member, is designed and tailored for the purposes of providing supportive services and programs to its blind consumer/members.  The organization is in the current process of planning, organizing, and hosting a national Top Dog Conference in St. Louis, May20-23, 2021, where all guide dog handlers and owners, as well as highly-trained specialists will converge.

Please visit MGDU.org for more detailed information, as well as accessing many useful educational resources.

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