- "Can you take your dog everywhere you go?"
- "Does he bite?"
- "Why do you have that dog in here?"
- "Can I pet your dog? Why not?"
- "What's that dog doing in here?"
If you are a handler, I'm sure you've heard these questions repeatedly. In fact, you're probably getting a little tired of answering them, right? You're probably wondering when folks are actually going to learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA), and how it applies to service dogs.
If you are sighted and have ever come across a guide team, you have most likely asked at least one or more of the above questions, if only out of curiosity.
So many times, we guide dog users enter a business, restaurant, or public building and one of their less-informed employees approaches us negatively, questioning our legitimacy and, ultimately asking us to leave.
Unfortunately, it seems the only times we hear anything in the news about guide-dog users is when their rights of access to a public facility have been denied by an uninformed individual and a lawsuit ensues.
Dixie Land Guide Dog Users recognizes the need to be pro-active and has organized a new initiative called, "Paws To Educate" program that reaches out to various businesses, schools, hospitals and civic organizations in an attempt to offer sensitivity and awareness sessions to their staff. This interesting and informative program touches on the 3 R's: Rights, Responsibilities and Recourse" of the handler as well as the business owner.
We have found that most folks who know about our rights to have our guides with us anywhere the public is invited don't know that we also have specific responsibilities to maintain to be able to usurp that right. They are also ignorant of the fact that, if we fail to maintain those responsibilities, that we can, in fact, be asked to leave their places of business without fear of discrimination.
Of course, valid documentation (preferably from local law enforcement) is vital whenever we are fighting for our rights of access or when the business owner is striving to protect its clientele.
So many times we have been shopping in a major department store when we hear a muffled bark of a small dog someone has sneaked in, claiming it to be a service dog or, we hear a scary growl from what seems to be a large animal just as it lunges at our dog. Store managers and employees approach us sheepishly, telling us about various individuals who bring their filthy, nasty, stinky dogs into these stores saying they are service dogs. These questionable characters allow their canines to urinate and defecate in the stores and laugh aloud as they walk off and leave the mess for a store employee to clean up. One man in the Charleston area has successfully passed off his 3 large Newfoundlands to be "seizure" dogs that work as a team! If they are, indeed, service animals, then he is certainly not fulfilling his obligation of keeping them under control.
Dixie Land recognizes there are many problems regarding these matters and has organized its own "Paws To Educate" program in an effort to better educate both the blind handler and the sighted business owner so that everyone can understand and appreciate our rights, responsibilities and recourse.
These sessions are available to any business, church, school or civic group within the state of South Carolina at absolutely no cost. Of course, donations will be accepted, though. We contour our programs to be as long or as short as necessary, always with allocated time for questions and answers.
To schedule our "Paws To Educate" program for your group, simply Email the Dixie Land Guide Team.
Or call (843) 608-6890.
We look forward to seeing YOU soon!