International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners
International Association of Assistance Dog Partners
P.O. Box 638 * Sterling Hts., MI 48311 * (586) 826-3938
February 18, 2006
Rep. Christopher B. Shanks,
Rep. William J. Frank and other Sponsors of HB 1457
State House H 101
Annapolis, MD 21401 1991
I'm writing you on behalf of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. Founded in 1993, this non profit organization represents and speaks for over 2000 members who work with guide ,hearing and service dogs. IAADP carries out its mission to foster the assistance dog movement through its Information and Advocacy Center, award winning quarterly publication "Partners' Forum," educational website, member benefits and the annual conference we hold in conjunction with Assistance Dogs International, a coalition of guide, hearing and service dog training programs.
IAADP would like to comment on bill, HR 1457, in particular the provisions that violate the civil rights granted to Maryland residents by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
While this proposed bill was undoubtedly well intentioned, it is apparent its sponsors did not take into account the current status of the assistance dog field, federal court decisions and the document issued by the National Association of [state] Attorneys General and the U.S. Department of Justice in July 1996. That document, titled "Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business" was designed to answer questions posed by business operators.
Under federal law it does not matter who trained the dog. As long as a guide dog, signal dog or any other animal has been individually trained to perform tasks of benefit to a disabled individual, it is legally a service animal. Certification cannot be required, even if a state has a program to certify dogs. Businesses are supposed to treat a service animal like a wheelchair or oxygen tank, as a necessary medical aid, not as a pet. Under ADA it is illegal for places of public accommodation to require "identification papers" to show the service animal is certified or licensed as a condition of granting access. The ADA provides greater protection for individuals with disabilities so it takes priority over local or state laws or regulations, according to this document. For your information, I have attached a copy of this Q & A document which your Maryland State Attorney General so graciously disseminated to hotels, restaurants and other businesses in July 1996 on the 5th Anniversary of the signing of the ADA into law.
If in doubt whether the animal is a pet or a service animal, businesses now have the right to ask, "What Tasks does your service animal perform?" See the ADA Business Brief on Service Animals issued in 2002 at www.ada.gov
According to the latest Assistance Dogs International (ADI) census, the non profit programs belonging to ADI collectively train less than 700 service dogs per year worldwide. Service dogs work for individuals with disabilities other than blindness or deafness. Thousands of people eagerly apply for these dogs after watching heartwarming success stories broadcast by the media. They are excited about the tremendous improvement in quality of life that can be achieved through partnership with a canine assistant. Unfortunately, they soon learn the demand far exceeds the supply. Eligibility for acceptance into a service dog training program can depend on income, geographical distance, type of disability, fundraising concerns and other factors that are no reflection on a disabled person's good character or ability to benefit from such partnerships. Many programs have long waiting lists of approved applicants and a qualified individual may have to wait several years before receiving a service dog. Hearing dogs are also in short supply, due to funding and staff shortages.
Unwilling to give up their dream of having a service or hearing dog, a number of disabled persons turn to other options such as hiring a professional dog trainer or studying how to train one themselves with the help of "how to" books and videos, like those developed by the ADI accredited service animal training organization, Top Dog, in Arizona, to teach disabled persons how to train their own service dog. They may also take community obedience classes and/or join Internet support groups where professional dog trainers answer questions and provide advice to empower List members to achieve a successful outcome. Additional resources include, but are not limited to, websites like IAADP's and ADI's which teach visitors about training standards, selection criteria, access rights and many other aspects of assistance dog partnership.
IAADP urges the legislature not to restrict the right of Marylanders to improve their safety, mobility and quality of life through working with a canine assistant. Restricting who
can train an assistance dog in Maryland only to ADI certified service animal trainers with identification from ADI certified service animal training organizations is a step backward in meeting the needs of Maryland residents with disabilities.
There is only one ADI program in your state. It graduates fewer than 15 service and hearing dog teams a year. Technically none of their volunteer trainers can qualify under HB 1457 as an ADI certified service animal trainer. This small program can't possibly begin to meet the needs of many thousands of citizens in Maryland who are entitled to work with a service animal under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
IAADP is not insensitive to the concerns of those who believe legislative action is needed. We suggest you follow the lead of other state legislatures if worried about fraud and make it a criminal misdemeanor for a non disabled citizen to bring a pet into a store by pretending to be a disabled person with a service animal. A huge fine could be imposed as a deterrent for such fraudulent behavior.
Re certification testing is unnecessary, if the goal is to exclude poorly behaved assistance dogs and other service animals from public accommodations. The ADA already empowered businesses to exclude any team from its premises if the service animal acts unruly, behaves in a threatening way or exhibits disruptive conduct, such as a dog barking in a movie theater.
IAADP supports Guide Dogs Users, Inc. (GDUI) and Guide Dog Users of Maryland in protesting mandatory re certification testing. If this provision is enacted, a tremendous burden would be placed on all assistance dog partners in the state.
We salute the provision in bill HR 1457 that requires public safety officers to receive an education about service animals and access rights under ADA. IAADP participated in the project,"We Welcome Service Animals," with ADI and GDUI to make a professional video for law enforcement on this very subject. Senator Bob Dole introduces the ADA and its requirements to police officers in that film. This great educational tool can be found on ADI's website.
In closing, IAADP thanks you for the opportunity to provide this input. If you have any questions or wish to have additional input on this matter, please feel welcome to get in touch.
cc: House Health and Government Operations Committee
Speaker of the House, Maryland
IAADP Board of Directors
Coalition of Assistance Dog Organizations