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Struggle Ongoing for People with Service Dogs

By Andrew Philips, Special to Postmedia Network
Friday, August 5, 2016 5:29:00 EDT PM

ANDREW PHILIPS/SPECIAL TO THE PACKET & TIMES While Judy German, pictured with her dog guide, Reno, says she has suffered her share of slights over the years when it comes to bringing her dog into businesses, it has only happened once since she moved to Orillia.

Judy German couldn’t believe what she was hearing when she arrived for an appointment at a city business.

According to German, who has been blind for more than 25 years, a receptionist told her future appointments would have to be scheduled toward day’s end because she wasn’t comfortable with her dog guide, Reno, a friendly four-year-old, black and tan Labrador retriever.

“I was mortified,” German recalled. “I’m an easygoing person and have been to surgeons’ and dentists’ offices for years with my dog without incident. By law, they can’t do that.

“I could have taken it a lot farther, but I didn’t want it to escalate. I’d rather be an advocate by providing information and educate people.”

But fortunately for German, that incident seemed to be the exception rather than the rule as she recounted her experience since moving to Orillia from Toronto more than four years ago.

“Locally, I have been welcomed by everybody,” said German, who lost her sight due to molecular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

But that doesn’t always seem to be the case for all of those living in the area with service dogs.

There have been recent reports, however, of area residents denied entry to businesses with their dogs, sometimes eliciting a call to police to try to straighten things out.

One such instance occurred Wednesday afternoon as two women tried to enter a west-end convenience store with their service dogs but were denied entry.

Orillia OPP Const. Jeff MacEachern confirmed officers were called to the scene.

“There were two women with clearly marked (service) dogs,” MacEachern said, adding the situation had been resolved by the time police arrived.

“They were allowed access. Usually, a lot of times when we go to a call like that, it’s a misunderstanding.”

In Ontario, the rights of those employing either dog guides or services dogs are protected under the province’s Blind Persons Rights Act or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act as well as the Human Rights Code.

German said anybody employing a service dog needs to ensure the canine is wearing either a vest with clear and legitimate identification from a recognized organization or, in her case, a traditional dog-guide harness like the one Reno wears when he’s working.

“I did have somebody come up to me at the bakery a little while ago to ask me if he was a service dog,” German said, noting she prefers to raise awareness rather than file a formal complaint with the province or call police.

“The protocol is that you don’t speak to the dog and don’t touch the dog (when he’s working). But don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

For their part, businesses say it’s imperative guide and service dogs are properly identified when people bring them into an establishment.

“We don’t allow dogs into the restaurant, but, obviously, a guide dog is a different situation,” said Chris McLaughlin, a manager at Weber’s on Highway 11 in Severn Township. “Any normal dog, we don’t allow in because of the way the counter is set up.”

Peggy Lee, program delivery director for Barrie-based COPE Service Dogs, sometimes hears from people who have had trouble bringing their dogs into a certain business or on an airplane.

“It really comes down to education,” said Lee, whose organization aims to provide highly skilled “service-dog partners to people with disabilities and to enhance the lives of youth experiencing challenges by involving them in the training process” of the dogs.

“We currently have 16 dogs in training.”

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