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Pickering hopes to Better Define ‘Service Animals’

Council approves creation of group to solve growing problem for service dog users and businesses News Jun 20, 2018 by Kristen Calis
Pickering News Advertiser

PICKERING When Itzy isn’t wearing her service vest, she’s your average dog, barking at squirrels and cats, and seeking love and affection from humans.

But the moment her service vest goes on, the seven-year-old standard poodle is all business, proud to take Pickering resident Pina D’Intino through her day.

Aside from being a smart and gentle breed, one that’s often trained as a service dog, it’s thanks to intense training and funding from the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides that made Itzy an ideal companion for D’Intino, who lost her eye sight when she was 36.

A couple of months later, she enlisted the help of a service she never expected would improve her life for the better.

” Unfortunately the victims in all of this are the persons with the disability and the invisible disability because they’re the ones who are being put through the ringer to have barrier-free access to the kinds of places we all take for granted. Ward 1 city Coun. Maurice Brenner ” “It’s really changed my life a lot,” she said of having service dogs.

The confidence that Itzy, D’Intino’s fourth dog guide, brings her is immeasurable.

“It’s being able to travel independently, not being afraid of hitting obstacles or people,” said D’Intino. “All in all, I still feel in control.”

But oftentimes D’Intino finds herself facing difficulty. As one example, taxi drivers often won’t allow Itzy in their cab.

“Going into restaurants, I’ve not been refused, but have had to justify her being with me,” she said.

Hostesses will tell her to wait, that they have to talk to their manager. Managers will sometimes say D’Intino cannot come in with her dog, and she has to explain Itzy is a guide dog and legally, she’s allowed inside.

“Or they reluctantly let you in, or they sit you in a corner,” she said.

She said people who were once accepting, are becoming more reluctant to accommodate service animals in their establishments.

What’s changed?

Ward 1 city Coun. Maurice Brenner said laws, legislation, accessibility standards and the Ontario Human Rights Code protect people who rely on service animals.

“We have umpteen documents that say it’s the law, but it’s the practices of a law that is very flawed,” he said.

He said the human rights protections in Canada for people with a service animal are very vague.

“There’s no criteria,” he said.

The Human Rights Code with the exception of the term “guide dogs” does not define service animals/dogs, but relies on the definition of what is considered a ‘disability’ which includes physical and psychological reliance.

“Instead of helping us, it’s caused us to have more issues,” said D’Intino.

Warranted or not, there seems to be an influx of animals being passed off as therapeutic for people, often making headlines.

“Now there’s what they call ‘compassion dogs, therapy dogs,’ and all the other animals people consider comfort animals,” D’Intino said.

Brenner said for $75 in the U.S., a company will send anyone a vest and certificate that says their animal is a service dog.

“So all I’d have to prove is, I’ve got the certificate and a vest and a veterinarian note that says my dog has all his shots,” he said.

D’Intino does not wish to diminish the benefits legitimate comfort and other therapy animals can bring to people, but she too feels the laws have gotten too vague and says all service animal users are in the same “melting pot” now.

“There has to be a second category, a second regulation, I think, that covers the rest of the animals,” she said.

If compassion and other therapy animals are put into the same category as service animals in the end, there at least needs to be a conversation about that.

“But when you start adding every animal into that category, I think it’s problematic. I think there has to be a distinction, absolutely,” she said.

D’Intino said because it’s quite obvious she is visually impaired, she doesn’t face as many barriers that people with invisible disabilities, such as autism, face.

The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides provides canine vision, hearing ear, autism assistance, service, seizure response and diabetic dog guides.

“I hear all kinds of horrible, horrible stories about how people get refused entrance and you know are left standing in the corner because of their dogs,” said D’Intino, who sits on a number of committees.

Council recently passed Brenner’s motion that staff create a working group to report back to council on recommendations to help remedy this situation that is felt beyond Pickering.

“We need a model that can work in Pickering, across Durham or across Ontario,” Brenner said.

The Pickering accessibility advisory committee will lead the group, with support of animal services and bylaw staff, to look at best practices and various options that could remove barriers many people who rely on service animals are facing.

“We’re looking at developing a model that’s workable, doable, could influence government in terms of clarifying this grey area,” said Brenner.

He decided to become involved in the matter after retail security guards approached the bylaw department. They were finding an increased demand in service animals without any criteria for which animals are allowed into various establishments, and which ones are not.

“Unfortunately, the victims in all of this are the persons with the disability and the invisible disability because they’re the ones who are being put through the ringer to have barrier-free access to the kinds of places we all take for granted,” he said.

D’Intino said she understands the plight many business operators find themselves in, and feels a solution could help them too.

D’Intino’s husband, David Wysocki, who sits on the Pickering accessibility advisory committee, agrees improvement are needed and believes in the innovation lab approach the group will be taking.

“It’s really best to work together with a group of stakeholders all active in the process,” he said.

The group was given a mandate to report back to council in March of 2019.

Kristen Calis is a reporter with Metroland Media Group’s Durham Region Division. She can be reached at .

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