Legal

The American Disabilities Act

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees a blind, deaf, or physically disabled person the legal right to be accompanied by a service animal in all areas open to the general public. Service animal means any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including but not limited to guiding individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching items.

For more information on the ADA, click on the links below for some useful resources:

National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC)
ADA Compliance Guide
ADA Document Center
ADA Information on the Web
ADI Guide to Assistance Dog Laws

Public Access and State Laws

You may directly access the State Laws regarding Dog Guides, Hearing Dogs, Service Dogs and accessibility. for North Dakota and surrounding areas.  Some of these documents requires Adobe or other PDF reader.

North Dakota Legislature Updates Law Regarding Assistance Dog Access

In response to prompting by Great Plains Assistance Dogs Foundation, Inc. ( Service Dogs for America) North Dakota Senator Robert Erbele and Representative Pam Gullison initiated legislation to update North Dakota law. North Dakota Century Code [chapter 25-13] has undergone proposed changes as they pertain to assistance dog access.

The intention of amending the existing law was to standardize terminology as well as to provide access for professional assistance dog trainers and assistance dogs in training. The definition outlined in section one is also quite interesting in that it not only defines what an assistance dog is, but goes on to define what an assistance dog is not.

The following law overwhelmingly passed both the House and the Senate during the 57th Legislative Assembly.

Governor Hoven has signed this SB2635 and it currently stands as law. Sponsoring legislators are: Senators Erbele and

Trenbeath, Representatives Kretschmar, Metcalf and Pollert. A sincere thank-you to those gentleman as well as to Representative Pam Gullison for her hard work and commitment as well.

State Laws

Public Access

At a recent demonstration an individual posed a very good question. “What do you mean by Public Access training and testing”. This is a good question and worth discussing, in depth, with our readers.

Public Access refers to the rights given to individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by an assistance dog. In summary the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA] states:

Any blind, deaf, or physically disabled person has the right to be accompanied by a service animal in all areas open to the general public. Service animal means any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including but not limited to guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.

Please note that this law makes mention that the dog must be “individually trained”, however it does not state who should train it nor does it give a standard to which the dog should be trained. This should be of concern to anyone interested in the assistance dog field. This federal law refers to “individually trained” dogs in regards to performing tasks, but no where does it mention to what level it should be trained in regards to public access, although it clearly gives public access rights. Within much of the assistance dog community this is of grave concern.

Through the evolution of the guide dog industry dating back to the beginning of this century, those partnered with guide dogs struggled, demanded, and fought for their right to be accompanied by their guide dogs. In the early years this of course was incredibly difficult. 1920’s America was not ready for dogs in their restaurants, stores, and work places. Public Access rights were slow coming and the battle was hard fought, but finally state by state those who used guide dogs received this right.

In the early 70’s dawned a new phenomenon, that of the Hearing and Service Dog. As beneficial to their human counterparts these dogs were being trained by competent and capable trainers and being placed throughout the U.S. There existed no public access rights for these individuals and their dogs however. Again battles were fought and legislators contacted in an effort to add Hearing and Service Dogs to existing legislation. By this time the public was [for the most part] aware of what purpose a guide dog served and that they were allowed public access. However, the concept of a dog trained to assist an individual with an auditory impairment this was a different issue altogether.

Through the years since that time assistance dog providers and those partnered with these dogs worked diligently to gain the same rights extended to guide dogs and their partners. Eventually each state modified their laws to include Signal [hearing] and Service Dogs. Even today we still struggle with public access issues. “If it’s not one of them blind-seeing eye dogs it can’t come in here”, is a statement commonly heard by service and hearing dog partners and providers alike. The ADA has stood in effect for more than 7 years now and yet the problem persists. However, public access issues seem to improve as time goes by and as providers and partners alike educate the public.

Understanding a little about the history of access rights is important in order to fully comprehend the seriousness of public access. Given many decades of fighting to establish laws and in turn to gain this right, the thought of losing these rights is horrific. The largest threat to these established rights is poorly or untrained assistance dogs and assistance dog partners. The general public has come to expect a standard of behavior for the working assistance dog. Assistance dogs that fall short of this standard bring criticism to the entire assistance dog field [inclusive of guide dogs]. This fact has kept the older guide dog schools separate from the rest of the assistance dog field, and manifests itself in new training providers receiving a cold shoulder from those more well established providers.

The fore mentioned is a component of public access training and testing and why it is so absolutely necessary. Each responsible and reputable training provider has their own training and testing methods. Throughout the 1990’s the membership of Assistance Dog International decided to establish uniform minimum standards and a public access test.

This was done in an effort to ensure that established programs and newcomers alike were aware of the importance of public access rights. Further that a minimum standard was reached while encouragement was given to exceed that standard. Public access rights are provide the motive to all of this, meanwhile the safety of the general public, as well as that of those partnered with assistance dogs, is also of great concern.

Public access training and testing revolves around several areas. Aggression, whether it is natural or trained, is the first and foremost concern. Overall control: that an assistance dog and his partner move easily amongst the general population without being obtrusive [even during incredible distraction]. Partner related hazards include the safety of the individual partnered with the dog. A dog pulling hard against the leash of his master in a wheelchair is positively dangerous. Dog related hazards generally include positioning of a dog while performing obedience skills or trained tasks.

A dog awkwardly tethered to his partners chair may be forced to walk in an unnatural manner, causing early deterioration of the musculoskeletal system.

Aggression, within ADI standards, is strictly prohibited. Anything much beyond a “speak” on command is not tolerated. Training of protection dogs to be partnered with an individual with a disability is also strictly prohibited among ADI member programs. It is thought that the risk of injury to the general public, to the handler, or to the dog himself is simply too great. This is not without debate; in 1997 ADI addressed this issue and came to the above conclusion.

Overall the level of ease at which an assistance dog team moves through the general population grades control. The team is expected to meet this level of control regardless of food distractions, noise distractions, the human population, motor vehicles, and others. Essentially the dog must maintain the highest degree of control and attention to his master regardless of the world around him. This is not as easy as it sounds given that a dog instinctively reacts to stimuli within his environment.

Partner related hazards focus on the safety of the person partnered with the assistance dog. An individual with blindness pulled haphazardly into the street by his dog that was lured by food scents is an example. Someone using a wheelchair pulled off of a curb is just as dangerous. The hearing dog that growls at other dogs brings the threat of a dog attack to an unsuspecting master. The seizure response/alert dog “protecting” his master may be responsible for delayed medical attention needed by his master with severe seizure activity. All of these examples need to be addressed by the providing entity, specific to the classification of assistance dog.

Dog related hazards are those threats to the dogs’ health, life, and overall longevity. Humane training methods are all the rage these days. However, an assistance dog performing a skill or task in a manner which causes him (the dog) harm negates the humanness of the training method used. These dogs perform a wonderful service to their master and they deserve our respect and compassion lest they become nothing more than slaves.

Public access training often begins with the puppy raiser of a guide, service, or hearing dog. In other cases, particularly with dogs acquired at an older age, screening and thorough training by professionals is necessary. Dogs acquired from shelters and private owners often fail to “make the grade” due to these public access concerns. Public access is a concern from the very beginning and remains such through the placement period and on into follow-up.  The tasks an assistance dog performs for his master become irrelevant if the dog is lunging for solicited pats on the head. A guide dog that growls every time he sees another dog becomes a threat to his masters’ safety regardless of how nicely he guides with no other dogs around.

Training providers have fielded many phone calls through the years from individuals wanting certification for their “helper” dog. Self-trained, the dog performs one or two tasks which are in fact helpful to the owner. About then he divulges that the dog is a Wolf/Pit-Bull/Doberman cross who has on occasion (once or twice a year) bitten small children, and ate the neighbors Chihuahua last week. Although the dog is providing a service and is performing the tasks flawlessly, the dog is not in the eyes of the assistance dog industry a “service” dog. Interestingly enough, according to the letter of the law (ADA) this individual has a right to be accompanied by his “service” animal. This dog was after all “individually trained”. Scary isn’t it!

There are persons living with a disability who have done a fantastic job in training their own assistance dog. Maintaining the right of these individuals to do so is also important. Somehow that must be done while simultaneously making sure that Billy Joe Bob and Cujo are kept off the streets.

It is this authors opinion that in the future the general public will demand their right to be safe and at ease while in the company of working assistance dogs. Unfortunately, I speculate that it will be prompted by an unfortunate incident. Legislators will be forced to come up with an answer. It is my sincere hope that whomever is charged with fixing this dilemma will contact the industry that has wrestled with this problem for decades. Given that, the assistance dog field is facing the potential of a federally regulated certification process.

As you are now aware, public access training and testing is the largest component of the assistance dog training, placement, certification, and follow-up process. Responsible and respectable providers know this and live with it every single day. Well-schooled assistance dog partners are also fully aware of the intense importance of public access issues. There is, after all, an awful lot at stake here!

Each responsible and reputable (assistance dog) training provider has their own training and testing methods. Throughout the 1990’s the membership of ADI (Assistance Dogs International) decided to establish uniform standards and a public access test.

Essentially the dog must maintain the highest degree of control and attention to his master regardless of food distractions, noise distractions, the human population, motor vehicles and others.