A professional dog obedience instructor in North Bay is petitioning the Ontario government to pass what he calls 'much needed' legislation regulating service dogs and their training.
Chip Kean, is also an associate certified dog behaviour consultant with the IAABC, International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants, with the dog division. He is currently doing assessments on four potential service dogs.
Kean has presented Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli with a petition asking the public to push the government ''to ensure certification and training of service animals is regulated to confirm that the correct type and proper amount of training is given to the service animals, and therefore provide assurance that an individual's needs are being adequately met.'"
The petition goes on to state that 'The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 doesn't include legislation that defines proper training and accreditation for service animals. And that until there are standardized behaviour requirements for service animals, there's no way to tell that individuals with various needs are receiving the assistance they need from their service animal.'
His petition comes after spending months trying to get a definitive answer to the government's stance on rules pertaining to service dogs.
"What's going on is that people are going online, filling out a questionnaire and paying over $200 to get their dog registered," says Kean.
"The problem with that is there is no way to test the animal to see if it is capable of performing specific tasks that a service dog would be required to complete as part of a public access test. It's just a question and answer thing they put on there. It doesn't prove anything and they send you a registration card and (dog) vest."
Kean says it's making it difficult for people who spend ten's of thousands of dollars and up to two years getting their dog trained.
"These people are getting these vests and these cards from these registries they're going on, they're slapping these vests on these dogs, and for people who actually have a legitimate service dog, it's making it difficult for them. Businesses aren't really sure if it is or isn't a service dog because some of these dogs have been reactive in public places.Some will bark or jump up or be aggressive. If you saw the dog in a public place, you would trust that the dog has gone through the proper training and had the right temperament to be in those places."
He would like to see Ontario adopt the same legislation passed by British Columbia which he describes as 'cut and dry.'
"It's very clear on what a service dog does and who can train them and who accredits them. People can't be denied access if they have an accredited service dog. In BC if it's done through private training then the dog has to pass a Public Access Test for service dogs. The dog must perform certain tasks like entry into facilities, exiting and entering vehicles, behaviour in public places such as restaurants and such. So there's about 21 different things that it would have to pass."
Kean says If the dog passes the Public Access Test, it receives an identification card from the government.
"The dog is also vested up and identified as a service dog, and they also have to have a letter on file from a medical professional indicating that they need a service dog or a service dog would be a benefit to them."
On December 6th, 2016, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris introduced a private members bill, Bill 80, the Ontario Service Dog Act which includes a section on service dogs in training.
It stalled in the legislator after a first reading. A representative at Harris's office says they hope to address it legislatively for a second reading in the near future. The office has just released a petition of its own and has uploaded it to its website, asking the government to endorse the bill. Those petitions will be tabled by Harris in the legislature next week.
Back in North Bay, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli has copies of Kean's petition at his Main Street office, ready for the public to sign.
"As each page fills up, I will be taking it back to the legislature and read it there. This particular petition signed by Chip, I will take and read in the legislature the week of the 16th of October, and that will kick off the beginning of me reading it probably on a biweekly basis," says Fedeli.
"These things take awhile to go through the process, but what I'll probably do is walk across the aisle and visit with the minister and just say 'look, this is something that is unique and maybe we should be looking at perhaps even a government bill to encapsulate this.'"
Kean says the province needs to get legislation in place sooner rather than later.
"So that people who have service dogs that are accredited and serve that purpose, don't have to go through the challenges they face from people who question the legitimacy of their service dog. The government needs to get something in place to give us some guidance as to what the dogs need to go through, how to accredit them and get Bill 80 passed."