Service Dogs And The Law

In the May/June, 2009 issue of Newf News I wrote a column entitled Walker Dog which was about mobility assistance dogs acting as a living cane or walker. Unfortunately I have discovered that my comment about the law regarding such dogs was wrong. It read:

Unfortunately in most jurisdictions, including here in Ontario, there is no legal recognition of mobility assistance dogs as there is for guide dogs for the blind.

It turns out that all such service dogs are indeed recognized in law by both the Province of Ontario and the Canadian Federal Government. While normally quite diligent in my research, I goofed on this one. The statutes and regulations are conveniently available on line and I did what I thought was a thorough search. Problem is I used the wrong search terms. Terms like service dog, assistance dog and mobility assistance dog yielded no hits. Three years later, using more sophisticated search techniques I discovered that I should have used service animal and assistance animal.

So now let me set the record straight. At the Federal Government level the laws are primarily for air travel and read:

Air Transportation Regulations – SOR/88-58 (Section 149)

149. (1) Subject to section 151, an air carrier shall accept a service animal for carriage without charge if the animal is

(a) required by a person for assistance; and

(b) certified, in writing, as having been trained to assist a person by a professional service animal institution.

(2) Where an air carrier accepts a service animal for carriage pursuant to subsection (1), the air carrier shall permit the animal, if the animal is properly harnessed in accordance with standards established by a professional service animal institution, to accompany the person on board the aircraft and to remain on the floor at the person’s passenger seat.

I can’t help but imagine a disabled passenger in a centre seat in economy class with their mobility assistance Newfoundland on the floor at their feet. The poor dog would have to be a foot rest for the disabled person along with the passengers on either side.

Compared to the federal law the Ontario government law is enlightened. The regulations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 give all encompassing access for service animals without them needing to come from a professional service animal institution. This is important as a dog trained for carting or other draft work can easily be taught at home to pull a wheelchair or act as a living cane. Some Newfoundlands even do this instinctively with only some minor practice needed. Here are the Ontario regulations:

Ontario Regulation 429/07 made under the Accessibility For Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005

Use of service animals and support persons

(2) If a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, the provider of goods or services shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and to keep the animal with him or her unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises.

(9) For the purposes of this section, an animal is a service animal for a person with a disability,

(a) if it is readily apparent that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to his or her disability; or

(b) if the person provides a letter from a physician or nurse confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to the disability.

The only problem with the Ontario law is that almost no one seems to know about it. The disabled are generally unaware that they have these rights and even if they are, the proprietors and managers of businesses sure don’t seem to know the law in this regard. What I recommend for residents of Ontario who are disabled and employing an assistance animal is to carry with them a copy of the regulations. You can copy them from the government website or order a hard copy from the Queen’s Printer for Ontario. Or you can just photocopy this column.

In the 2009 Walker Dog column I wrote about Moe McKinnon from Midland, Ontario using one of her Newfs as a mobility assistance dog. Suffering from multiple sclerosis Moe had a handle added to Polar Bear’s carting harness and employed him as a living cane. Now that I have made her aware of her rights under Ontario law she has bought a mobility dog harness and is using it with her Newf, Turi. The harness has the words “service dog” imprinted on it. It has two handles, one fixed and the other flexible, similar to those on guide dog harnesses. Here are some photos of Moe, Turi and the harness:

Unfortunately I have not found comparable laws in the other jurisdictions in Canada other than in Alberta where a disabled person may apply for an identification card that will allow them to access public facilities with a service dog. Hopefully in time, all jurisdictions will pass appropriate legislation and regulations to further animal assistance for the disabled. In the United States, the federal government has laws regarding service animals similar to those of Ontario; unfortunately these have come into conflict with state laws. Let’s trust that this dilemma will also be worked out in favour of the disabled persons and their wonderful service animals.

Peter Maniate is a Newfoundland dog breeder and a professional trainer specializing in dog carting. Since 1979 he has been writing a bi-monthly column in the Newf News entitled Carting Corner. The preceding column originally appeared in the September/October, 2012 issue. Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.