Service animals can make a profound difference in the lives of those suffering serious injuries and disability. Recently, the ejection of a Florida woman from a flight due to the presence of her comfort squirrel has highlighted the difficulties in regulating service animals.
In Ontario, for instance, there are two legally recognized types of animals which assist the disabled: guide dogs for the blind and service animals. Guide dogs must undergo certification by recognized training facilities as prescribed in regulations to the Blind Persons’ Rights Act. The blind person is then given an identification card by the government identifying themselves and the dog. No business can legally refuse the blind person and their guide dog once they are shown the identification cards.
Service animals are not as well-regulated. Regulations to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act suggest service animals have visual indicators such as a vest or harness and that the disabled person carry a doctor’s note explaining the need for the animal due to their disability. However, at this time, there is no requirement for certification, and therefore, no list of recognized training facilities.
Without clear rules, conflicts will likely continue to arise. Service animals have an important role in our society, and we should have laws which protect the people who rely on these animals.
Bill 80, Ontario Service Dogs Act, which is currently before parliament, would require certification of service dogs at recognized facilities. Supporting this bill will help business owners and the public by ensuring the service animals permitted into businesses are properly qualified.