I am pleased to comment on the Service Dog Teams Standard Published by National Standards of Canada, drafted May 2, 2017, (The Standards Document). My submission will make comments under the same headings as prescribed in the Standards Document. I will also add an additional section dealing with invalid presumptions and missing items. These comments will follow my specific commentary on the Standards Document.
In making my comments, I have tried to limit them to the most important issues for me. This does not mean that I accept as valid any of the other provisions of the Standards Document. As far as guide dog users are concerned, I believe that this document is completely unnecessary and a fundamental intrusion into our rights as citizens to use our guide dogs to minimize the effects of our sensory disability. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and federal and provincial human rights acts are in place to protect us from over-broad, offensive and paternalistic standards such as those expressed in the Standards Document.
I write this brief in the capacity of an individual who has had the pleasure of working with five excellent guide dogs from the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey. The comments and opinions I express below are my own and are based on my experience as a guide dog user. I am not an expert in dog training. I recognize that there are others more qualified than me to express opinions on specific training techniques.
Committee on Service Dogs
The Committee on Service Dogs (the Committee), which was formed to develop the Standards Document only reflects the views of institutions which provide a small minority of guide dogs that are used in Canada. Both of the individuals who represent guide dog schools represent organizations that only distribute a small number of dogs to blind or partially sighted users in Canada. In fact, most of the dogs that they release are for people with other disabilities.
The vast majority of Canadians who use guide dogs obtain their dogs from guide dog schools in the United States of America. Even though these schools provide most of the dogs used in the Canadian marketplace, none of these schools are represented on this Committee. Their perspective is significant since these schools will have to modify their curriculums substantially to comply with this new Standards Document. No input has been sought from them on the increase in costs that they would have to incur to bring their dogs up to this standard as expressed in the Standards Document, who will bear those costs, whether these schools will continue to serve Canadians at all in light of the requirements imposed by the Standards Document. Finally, who bares the responsibility financially if a team trained by an American school does not meet the rigorous testing criteria as set out in the Standards Document. As a result, the effect of the Standards Document on people who use guide dogs could be that they are only able to receive dogs from Canadian schools assuming that even they can or are willing to comply with these standards. Even this is by no means certain since some of the Canadian guide dog schools have serious reservations regarding the content of the Standards Document. People who had concerns about problems with waiting lists before will have an even longer waiting list to contend with if this standard is adopted.
Next, I turn to the user’s representatives identified as being members of the Committee. No information was provided on how they were selected, how long they have been guide dog users, where their dogs have come from, what expertise, if any, they have in training or using dogs, the environments that they work a dog in, etc. One would think that on an important issue such as this, some mechanism would have been put in place to seek applications from the general user community and select the best possible candidates to serve on the Committee given their level of education, training and experience. The Standards Document does not indicate that any such process was undertaken.
It is also not clear if the users on the Committee were participating on their own or on behalf of the groups that they are identified with in the Standards Document. This is confusing to me since it is not clear whether this Standards Document is supported by these people as individuals, by the groups they purport to represent or both.
Standards Document Introduction
The first sentence of the second paragraph of this section contains an inaccuracy. The Mira Foundation was not the first school to place guide dogs in Canada. Several American schools had provided guide dogs to Canadian citizens well before that time. The Mira Foundation was the first Canadian school to place a guide dog in Canada. The sentence as it is currently drafted is misleading.
In the third paragraph, it is stated that “standardization of the service dog team will protect the public, the user and service dogs.” It is public education that changes perceptions on how service dog teams are perceived by members of the public. Standards such as these only play a small part in forming legislation since most government ministries and departments engage in their own consultation process before enacting their own provincial or federal legislation. A good example of this practice was followed in British Columbia when its dog access legislation was recently amended.
Standards already exist for training and using guide dogs. These standards were adopted by the International Guide Dog Federation. These standards are extensive and provide direction on training of the animals, puppy raising, animal care, etc. They are more than sufficient for meeting the needs of the federal and provincial governments, to protect the public, the user and guide dogs alike.
The Standards outlined in the Standards Document, as will be discussed below, are intrusive, paternalistic, unnecessary, irrelevant, and in other cases, even duplicative of other legislation and guidelines that already exist for those of us who use guide dogs. Simply put, guide dogs that have been trained by a school that has been accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation have sufficient training to work as service dogs in the community. Instructors who train students at these accredited schools have sufficient training to instruct users of guide dogs. Users of guide dogs who attend the schools have received sufficient training to use a guide dog in public. There is therefore no need for this body to regulate how we use and work with our dogs.
In the next paragraph, the authors of the Standards Document indicate that the need for the standard is because of long waiting lists involved in obtaining dogs, and that trainers who train them do not have sufficient experience working with people with disabilities and their families. Frankly, this is offensive to those of us who have attended schools in the United States to obtain our dogs. All of the staff are incredibly well trained and go through apprenticeship programs. Many of the staff are specifically trained at a university level in working with people with disabilities. They also receive significant on-the-job training in this field.
The reference to long waiting lists likely refers to some of the Canadian schools who provide guide dogs. This may be due to a number of factors, including that the schools train dogs for people with other disabilities in addition to guide dogs. Perhaps the schools should actually specialize in training, certain types of dogs rather than trying to be a one size fits all for the disability community in Canada. Even then, many of us will still choose to go to the United States to obtain our dogs since Canadian schools are unable or unwilling to produce dogs that meet our specific needs.
Tying this standard to waiting lists is very disingenuous and misleading. After all, the adoption of this standard will likely make this problem worse and not better. Some American schools and even some Canadian schools may refuse to serve Canadian handlers because they are unwilling to adapt their training courses to meet these standards.
The first sentence of this paragraph is concerning. It is suggests that this Standards Document creates a benchmark for the performance of a service dog team. This suggests that it is a minimum standard that a team must satisfy. The problem is that most service dog teams in Canada currently will not meet this standard. This is problematic for guide dog users; particularly since some of the requirements that the Standards Document imposes include requirements that we will never use. An example of this is performing obedience with our dog while the dog is off leash. All of our obedience drills are done on leash so that we, as blind users can observe what our dog is doing. Obedience commands apart from “come” would therefore be irrelevant in a standard when assessing the performance of a guide dog team.
The next sentence in this paragraph is extremely offensive! I, and many people like me, do not need a standard to tell me or us as guide dog users generally how effective our working partnerships are with our dogs. The effectiveness of us as a team is readily apparent in the eyes of the public based on the training that we have received. Training schools expend considerable time and resources in matching us with our dogs. No identifying mark or accreditation from the Canadian government is going to change that. This statement is paternalistic, suggesting that the designers of this standard are better equipped to know the needs of those of us with disabilities than we ourselves and our instructors are to assess those needs. People with disabilities have been fighting against these kinds of misperceptions for several decades now. The Committee should be aware of this and should be working to dispel the stereotypes rather than perpetuate them.
Normative References (Standards Document, section 2)
The List of Normative References does not include any references to the standards of the International Guide Dog Federation. These standards are comprehensive and cover many of the areas that are already dealt with in this standard. Contrary to what is suggested by the Guide Dog Users of Canada, these standards do not just outline how dogs perform various tasks, but they do in fact deal with how the various tasks, activities and responsibilities of schools, handlers and instructors are to be carried out by the dog, the handler, the instructor and various support personnel. As far as I’m concerned, they provide a comprehensive code for raising, breeding, training and using guide dogs. The guide dog community should not therefore be captured by a new Canadian standard because of the breadth of what is already available.
Definitions (Standards Document, Section 3).
The list of definitions provided in the Standards Document illustrates the problem of trying to build a standard that applies to all disabilities. Some of the definitions will apply to some disability groups and not to others. This is another reason why specific accreditation standards for specific types of dogs such as guide dogs should be acceptable rather than trying to re-invent the wheel in an attempt to try to include everybody under one standard.
When defining terms, the definitions used need to be put into the broader legal context. The Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms in section 15(2) and several provincial human rights acts allow for affirmative action programs that benefit a specific group to be designed and remain in place for the benefit of that group. Allowing people who are blind to receive dogs from schools accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation and providing them with full access rights in Canada respects the long history that guide dogs and their handlers have had in Canada and should be preserved. Other groups should have the same access rights once their training programs have been accredited by an appropriate accreditation body. Those of us who have already achieved that status shouldn’t have to sacrifice the gains we have made for the benefit of others who want more inclusivity. People who are blind face enough disadvantages already, without facing additional burdens imposed upon us by this Standards Document in the name of broader inclusivity.
The definition of “Disability” is not clear. When dealing with issues of addiction, for example, how long must the individual remain clean or sober before they are eligible to have a dog? Do they even need a dog if they are clean or sober? I fail to see how this reference is useful in the definition of disability in the context of obtaining a service dog.
Next, the reference to a person having a previous disability suggests that they would still have access to a service dog, even after the disability has been ameliorated. This suggests that people with temporary disabilities would be eligible to obtain service dogs. Is this really appropriate? In my view, the disability needs to be permanent before an individual should be eligible to obtain a service dog.
This definition also conflicts with the definition of Person with a Disability found in section 3.8 of the Standards Document. These definitions need to be brought into alignment.
The definition of “Assessor” found in Section 3(2) of the Standards Document provides that an Assessor is authorized to examine whether an applicant has the financial resources necessary to care for a dog. It is not clear what factors will be considered when making that assessment. It is also not clear what kinds of disclosures of financial information an applicant will be required to disclose to allow an Assessor to make an informed decision. These kinds of inquiries are extremely intrusive and unnecessary. Similar types of inquiries are not made when people with disabilities purchase other aides or appliances to accommodate their disabilities. How is this situation any different? The approach taken by the Committee in this area is extremely paternalistic and disrespectful towards people with disabilities.
The definition of public spaces in section 3.10 may be problematic for some religious groups when issues of access to places of worship are referred to. There is no suggestion that the Committee consulted with various religious groups to determine what religious reasons may prevent an individual with a service dog from accessing their premises. There could be a conflict between the religious right, held by others attending the place of worship and the access rights of the person who has the service dog. Some mechanism needs to be found so that the rights of both groups can be respected. The Committee should consult with religious leaders from all of the largest practising religions in Canada to make sure that the specific needs of the congregants and the service dog handlers are met.
General Requirements, (Standards Document, Section 4)
Under the heading Need for a Service Dog and Ability to Manage under section 188.8.131.52.2 of the Standards Document, the language of the Standards Document is unclear. Is the person with a disability required to have their disability assessed each and every time they require a new service dog? For those of us who have permanent unchanging disabilities, this requirement seems unnecessary after proof of disability has been shown once.
Next, it is not clear in the same provision if the assessor may be the person’s Qualified Practitioner or if it must be somebody else. If it is the latter case, an applicant will now have to go through two assessments to obtain a service dog. This seems to be overkill to me. Once a Qualified Practitioner as defined in the Standards Document provides a training school with proof of disability, and once the training school itself is satisfied that it is appropriate to issue one of their dogs to the person with a disability, that should end the matter.
Under the heading Handlers, Canine Husbandry Knowledge and Application, found in section 4.1.2 of the Standards Document, extensive time is spent on the issue of canine first aid. Most of these first aid requirements are not taught by several of the recognized guide dog training schools. These requirements are not part of the International Guide Dog Federation standards. If this requirement is maintained, whose responsibility is it to make sure that course materials are accessible to handlers who use guide dogs? Who bares the cost of accessibility? Who bares the increased cost of food and accommodation if individuals are required to stay at their guide dog training school to receive this additional education? How frequently must a person recertify and who is appropriately trained to provide recertification? None of these questions are answered in the Standards Document. Is it even necessary or possible to provide all of this training to all disability groups who use service dogs? Is it reasonable to require a quadriplegic to be able to splint a dog’s leg for example? Some practicality and risk management principles need to be applied here rather than simply requiring all teams to deal with all risks, no matter how small such risks may be.
Requiring a team to carry a dog first aide kit is simply ridiculous. Many of us already carry large back packs and other bags with other work and related supplies that we use every day. My pack already weighs in excess of 15 kgs. Some reasonableness needs to be applied here.
With respect to the emergency action plan, it is paternalistic of the authors of the Standards Document to prescribe that service dog owners and handlers have such a plan. Simple prudence would dictate that we do. It is insulting to make this part of a standard. All of us have regular veterinarians and know where the closest emergency veterinarian is in our home communities.
Under the heading Veterinary Care 184.108.40.206 of the Standards Document, how is this to be tracked? Is it seriously suggested that the Handler will have to report to a government body every time their animal receives veterinary care and what services are provided? Is it seriously contended that we will have to make veterinary records available for inspection at any time? Where is the trust here? Most of us who do have service dogs ensure that they do receive appropriate veterinary care, including issues described in the list under this heading. Some of us are even required to seek additional checkups if we are required to take our dogs out of country for business or other reasons.
With respect to medical records of treatment, it should be sufficient that these be kept at the service dog’s veterinarian. Simple prudence would dictate that if we ask somebody to take care of our dog while we are away that they know where our current veterinarian is and how to access the records.
Under the heading Service Dog Obedience Skills found at section 4.2.2 of the Standards Document, it is quite simply unreasonable to expect guide dog users to perform obedience skills with their dog off leash apart from perhaps the come command and to have the dogs sit when the handler has their hand on the dog itself. Most of our obedience is performed while the dog is on leash so that we can physically observe what the dog is doing. Our dogs are never working off leash and it is inappropriate to impose a requirement on us to perform obedience under those kinds of conditions in public.
Under the heading team – Mitigation of Disability found at section 4.3.3 of the Standards Document, the Committee should consider adding a statement that if the dog is trained at an accredited school by a respected training standards organizations such as the International Guide Dog Federation, compliance with this provision is presumed.
Team Performance in Public under section 4.3.4 of the Standards Document is frankly unrealistic. I can’t count the number of times that my dog is observed when I come into a public space simply by virtue of her being there. It would therefore be impossible to comply with the “unobtrusive” requirement imposed by this provision. Careful consideration should be given to removing this word and replacing it with a term better suited to the dog not causing disruption or interference with the ability of others to transact business or to enjoy the public space. Of course, a member of the public who has a fear of dogs should not provide a basis for the dog and the handler to be removed from the public space.
Detailed Requirements, (Standards Document, Section 5)
Under the heading Determination of Handlers Disability found under section 220.127.116.11 of the Standards Document, I would suggest adding proof of client status from a recognized agency who serves people with disabilities, E. G. CNIB, Canadian Paraplegic Association, Canadian Hearing Society, etc. While the list of qualifications provided are appropriate, there may be costs associated with some of them. Since the individual is requiring a signed statement from a qualified practitioner which does not relate to their ongoing medical care if they can only prove disability in that fashion, some physicians may actually charge the client for obtaining proof of disability. This may impose a hardship especially on those who are most unable to afford to pay such fees. It would not be appropriate for a physician to bill a provincial health care plan for these kinds of services since they are being requested by a third party such as a guide dog school or another government department.
Under the Heading entitled Category A Requirements found in section 18.104.22.168 of the Standards Document, most of these criteria are already evaluated by IGDF schools when they accept applicants. For example, the school I attend requires us to fill in a detailed application describing the dog’s home and working environments, our daily activities, how we will use the dog, etc. Applicants are also required to fill in detailed medical forms to prove their medical suitability. First time applicants are required to provide letters of reference which are also used to determine our suitability. Interviews and home visits are used strategically by the school to gather additional information if same is required. These assessment criteria are unnecessary for people seeking to acquire a guide dog as an extensive vetting process is already in place in the case of many if not all IGDF accredited schools.
In a number of places in the document, it is suggested that a dog handler must have sufficient financial resources to take care of the dog. How is this to be assessed? Will we be required to provide tax returns or face equally intrusive inquiries to show that we are financially worthy to take care of a dog? Surely this kind of paternalism and intrusive investigation can be avoided.
Under the heading Handlers, Knowledge and Application of Humane Training found at section 5.1.3 of the Standards Document, it appears that the traditional slip collar that is used by most guide dog training schools would be prohibited in favour of a martingale collar. While I understand that this may be the personal preference of some Committee members, it is not necessarily standard in the guide dog training community. No evidence has been provided that slip collars are unsafe or inhumane to the dog, especially if they are properly sized. Some schools believe that these collars provide a higher and better degree of safety, especially if dogs and handlers are moving quickly and if dogs pull hard at the preference of the handler. I strongly recommend that this standard permit the use of slip collars , provided that such a caller is endorsed by a recognized training school such as a school accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation. Section 22.214.171.124 entitled Appropriate Equipment should also be amended accordingly.
There are occasions when guide dog users are required to use a gentle leader to assist their dog in working around various types of distractions. It is not clear from the Standards Document whether this type of device would be permissible. Some may interpret this kind of device as a muzzle which is clearly not allowed under the standard. There are situations where the use of a gentle leader is required for safety and other reasons. Perhaps the Committee should spend some time speaking to those schools which use this device to learn how it is used, why it is used and how it trains its students to use the device safely.
Under the heading Category B Requirements found in section 126.96.36.199 of the Standards Document, all of these skills are taught by accredited IGDF schools. It is unreasonable that an assessment process to be undertaken before a person even has a dog for them to have already acquired these skills. There should be a presumption in any document like this that a person with a disability who is trained by an accredited school will follow the training they were provided. This would render many of the requirements in this section unnecessary for those of us who receive training at an accredited IGDF training school.
Under the heading Canine First Aid Knowledge found in section 188.8.131.52 of the Standards Document, the list of items to be covered is subject to modification based on the personal preferences of the assessor. This is because of the use of the words “that are not limited to” preceding the list of items. This is unnecessary and builds uncertainty into the evaluation process. It also potentially leads to individual assessments being affected by the subjective preferences of the Assessor. This is not appropriate in a national standard which is supposed to standardize all of these processes to the extent they are required at all.
With respect to the specific items to be contained in a first aid program, serious thought should be given to the earlier comments I made regarding risk management and mitigation rather than requiring dog teams to jump through hoops every time a risk is identified.
The commentary provided by the Committee under the heading entitled Detailed Service Dog Knowledge found in section 184.108.40.206 of the Standards Document is very problematic. While people should behave appropriately when using a service dog in public, they should not be required to be public relations ambassadors for the movement as a whole. We have a right to privacy like every other citizen and we should be able to choose when and if we wish to engage the public about ourselves and our dogs. Making it a requirement that we do so is offensive.
I had to chuckle when I saw a reference in this section that service dog handlers had to understand the doctrine of undue hardship as it applies in certain situations. As most lawyers in the human rights field will tell you, undue hardship has not been well defined by the courts or human rights commissions. Requiring lay people to understand such a muddy concept is unreasonable. The use of the term undue hardship by an organization wishing to deny access shouldn’t just be taken at face value. The onus is on the organization asserting undue hardship to prove it, not on the person with a service dog seeking access to disprove its existence.
In the same section, applicants are supposed to know how to mediate issues that arise when they are trying to access public spaces or facilities such as others who have allergies. Under access laws, people with guide dogs have a right to access public services, goods and facilities without discrimination. If an individual who is attempting to deny service based on another disability, they, like us, should have to provide proof of disability. It is not appropriate or reasonable to expect guide dog or other service dog users to have to mediate their own access when no proof of disability is provided by the other person seeking accommodation. The current Standards Document imposes a double standard on this issue where the service dog handler will lose just about every time. Remember as well that the owner of the public space or facility is required to accommodate both disabilities short of undue hardship. This is not referred to anywhere in this Standards Document.
The specific standards related to veterinary care found in section 220.127.116.11 of the Standards Document should simply be left up to the dog handler and their veterinarian. There is no reason for the government to interfere in the canine medical examining rooms of the nation when service dogs are being treated. Such interference is paternalistic and shows a lack of trust both to people with disabilities and the veterinarians, who adhere to their own professional standards, and provide such excellent care to our dogs.
Under the heading Obedience skills in section 5.2.2 of the Standards Document, some of these standards are completely inapplicable to guide dog users. “When the dog is off leash” standards include set, down, sit, down and stay with distractions and stay with handler at a distance. Leave it probably is also not a good idea with a guide dog while off leash. This is because we cannot enforce the behaviour if it does not stop. With the other commands listed above, we would have no way of verifying whether the commands occurred while the dog was off leash. This is why we do our obedience on leash so that we can verify that the commands are carried out. Our dogs don’t work loose in public so we don’t have to worry about our dogs being disruptive to the same degree as other people with disabilities in public settings. Similarly, we do not require our dogs to heal through crowds with distractions unless we are accompanied by another individual. If we were alone, we would be working our dogs using the harness. These sorts of capabilities or requirements need to be built into the standard so as to properly describe what people with guide dogs do and do not do with their dogs while in public.
The description at the end of note to is problematic. The dog will only move forward once the distraction is gone, once the handler directs the dog to do so. The dog will not do it on its own.
With respect to the heading Service Dog Behaviour in public, found in section 5.2.3 of the Standards Document, I have difficulty with the second requirement. People who are afraid of dogs may interpret almost any action that the dog may take as aggression. The language “the public may interpret as aggression” is far too open to interpretation and may depend on the attributes of the specific people who are present in a given situation. The Committee would do better to describe specific aggressive behaviours that will not be tolerated, such as lunging, barking with bared teeth, excessive growling, etc.
Under the heading urination/defecation found in section 18.104.22.168 of the Standards Document, all of us who have service dogs have had the unfortunate occasion of this occurring once in a while in unexpected places and at unexpected times. Setting the standard as the dog “shall not” is unrealistic. Instead, there should be a training requirement to teach the dog where it would be appropriate to go and not go. Similarly, there should be an obligation imposed on the handler to clean up any unexpected messes that their dog creates in a public place. Most of us who have dogs do this as a matter of routine when the unexpected happens. One of the reasons why I do not believe that this should be a mandatory prohibition is that if a dog has diarrhea, we may not be aware that our dog has diarrhea until an accident actually happens, even though we may have taken appropriate precautions to relieve our dog before taking it into a public place.
I also wonder how a dog will notice the difference between public and private property if they are outside and they need to evacuate their waste. For a dog, grass after all is grass. The requirement that our dogs not evacuate their waste on private property is over-broad and unworkable. It should even be problematic if solid waste is collected and waste evacuation is restricted to outside locations.
I simply cannot believe that imposing standards such as those in 22.214.171.124 dealing with the non physical needs of the service dog even need to be put in these standards. Most of us spoil our dogs rotten and do whatever we can to provide the best environment possible. My current dog gets hours of play time with me, my wife, my children and our other pet dog under appropriate, supervised conditions. All outside play is conducted in a large fully high fenced-in yard. Toys are readily available if she wants to play with them herself. I don’t need a standards document to tell me what is safe and what isn’t when assessing the non-physical needs of my dogs.
With respect to the section entitled Safe to the Public found in section 5.3.4 of the Standards, document, physical control should be added to this list. Guide dog users will always have their dogs under physical control while they are in public spaces. Visual control is inapplicable. None of the situations that are described in the section would be used by a guide dog handler while in public.
The heading Unobtrusive found in section 126.96.36.199 is also problematic for those of us who use guide dogs. While it is entirely reasonable to put our dog in a safe place while we are seated, it may not always be practical for a dog to be unobtrusive when getting off a very crowded subway car, bus or light transit vehicle. People are packed into these vehicles like sardines and it may not be possible for us to vacate the vehicle without jostling somebody. Language, such as causing as little disruption as is possible when entering or exiting public transportation may be more useful. Similarly, it may not be possible to completely avoid contact with others when manoeuvring in tight spaces. While guide dogs are trained to keep this jostling and disruption to a minimum, it may not be possible to avoid it altogether. The standard needs to be realistic and allow for some margin for error.
With respect to the heading entitled Human Hazards found at section 188.8.131.52.1 of the Standards Document, most of these requirements are motherhood and apple pie. Some common sense needs to be exercised before putting these kinds of things into a standard. Surely the Committee trusts people with disabilities who are properly trained to work with their dogs to treat their dogs safely and have plans to extricate them from uncomfortable or unhealthy situations. If people breach those standards, it is incumbent on the school or perhaps local humane societies to step in and take appropriate corrective action. The same comments apply to the heading Environmental hazards found at section 184.108.40.206.2 of the Standards Document.
With respect to the heading entitled Attacking Dogs found at section 220.127.116.11.3 of the Standards Document, some of the tactics described are very unrealistic for people who use guide dogs. For example, it is not reasonable for us to be expected to cross a street in the middle of a block when faced with an attacking dog on or off leash, especially when the street is busy with traffic. It is not always possible for us to body block when there is an attacking dog on the left, where our guide dog is currently working. While asking the dog to be restrained is possible, it is often too late. As guide dog handlers, we should be permitted to release our own dog if we need to so that it can protect itself as best as possible. We should also be permitted to obtain the name, address and other identifying information both of their dog and themselves so that we can report them to the appropriate authorities. Similarly, there should be a legal requirement imposed on members of the public to disclose their full name and address to a guide dog handler if the handler is being confronted with an unsafe dog.
The key points to remember when dealing with attacking dogs is that we don’t want to see either the dog or the handler injured. Putting the handler in a situation of having to perform body blocks puts the handler her or himself at risk potentially of very serious injury. There are portions of this standard that focus so much on the dogs safety that they forget about the human handler altogether. This is one of them.
Markings (Standards Document, section 7)
The second sentence of this section should be amended to read, “The following markings shall appear on identification carried by the handler”. The reason for this change is that it would be inappropriate for the name of the handler and of the dog to appear anywhere on the dog itself. This is a massive invasion of the personal privacy of the handler. It is also unreasonable to have a photograph of the team displayed on the equipment carried by the dog for the same reason. There should also be a notation included on the card indicating that the card expires upon the retirement of the service dog. The Committee should also consider adding the date of birth of the handler son that handlers can travel while carrying fewer pieces of government issued identification.
I expect that the Committee will receive some submissions that are opposed to identification cards altogether. I have no objection to carrying and producing an identification card if I wish to assert my access rights, provided that the production of such a card is prima facie proof that the dog who accompanies me is a guide dog. I would also insist that identification cards produced in one province are equally acceptable in all other Canadian provinces and have the same status as cards issued in the province where access rights of an individual are being asserted.
Inspections (Standards Document, section 8)
This section of the Standards Document is very problematic in a number of areas. First, who pays for the inspection? When does the inspection actually happen? Does it happen while the individual is being trained, a specific amount of time after the individual is being trained, etc. If the inspection happens after the individual has returned home after receiving their dog, what happens if the person is denied access during the time between when they return home and when they go through an inspection? Do they magically lose all of their access rights?
Next, it has been suggested by the Guide Dog Users of Canada that various guide dog training schools can contract into this standard to become assessors. Where is that stated in this document anywhere?
Next, why would American schools, for example, modify their existing training programs or subject their staff to have to comply with each and every aspect of this training standard when they train so few Canadians, as compared to the rest of their student populations? Who bares the cost of having class times lengthened so that these inspections can be done, the extra skills taught, testing being done on the handler’s proficiency in these extra skills, etc.? Training guide dogs is already an expensive business. Most of the schools raise all of the money for training the teams themselves with only nominal contributions from handlers at some schools.
If the inspection is done after the team returns home, who bares the costs if the team fails to pass the inspection? What happens to the dog? Are they returned back to the school even though the school has determined that the match is appropriate? If that does happen, what is the likelihood that the school will issue another dog to that particular Canadian graduate? None of these things have been considered in drafting these criteria.
Under the heading Need and Readiness for a service dog found in section 18.104.22.168 of the Standards Document, why is it necessary for the Assessor to again satisfy him or herself that the person has a disability? Surely the person who is presenting him or herself for inspection would have already provided sufficient proof of disability. Since the assessor her or himself has to be independent from the handler, this would specifically preclude the school which trained the dog from providing the assessment. This is a complete answer to the point raised by the Guide Dog Users of Canada discussed above that schools can contract into providing the services under the Standard. It certainly is not possible given this wording. There is also a suggestion that the assessor’s report is to be reviewed by somebody but the standard does not specify by whom.
The section dealing with the handler’s knowledge of Canine care and its Application is extremely paternalistic. If a dog is trained by a recognized school, the tasks it has been trained for and what the handler may reasonably expect would be obvious.
Requiring people to disclose emergency care plans, names of veterinarians, etc. suggests that people with disabilities will only take those steps if they are required to do so. These are common sense steps that any responsible dog owner will have in place. For example, I have known every time before I went to guide dog school who my vet would be, where they were located, etc. I also know where the emergency veterinarian is in relation to my current neighbourhood.
It is suggested that the handler will provide evidence of regular veterinary care to the assessor. This suggests that inspections of a team may happen more than once. Nowhere is this expressed anywhere in the standard. I reach this conclusion because it simply would not make sense to expect a handler to provide evidence of regular veterinary care, shortly after they come home with their guide dog. Sufficient time would not have passed for such care to be necessary, let alone provided in most cases.
It is simply not reasonable to require a team to undergo multiple inspections at the whim of some government or other agency. Who pays for the inspections? Who pays for the loss of productivity, when these inspections have to be done during regular business hours? People with disabilities face enough barriers to full access in the workplace without imposing the requirements that they be absent from work for these kinds of reasons. From my perspective, multiple inspections is an unnecessary, make work project.
In the section relating to the quantity of food to be fed to our dogs, it is extremely paternalistic to expect us to show to an inspector how much we need to feed our dog and how much that is measured. At some point, there has to be some level of trust and respect here. After all, we don’t impose the standards on people who have children to make sure that they are fed properly. Why do such rigorous standards need to be imposed on people with service dogs who have received appropriate training on how much to feed their dogs and who do seek the appropriate advice from their veterinarians.
Surely people will and should trust us in terms of making sure our dogs have access to water, have a proper area for relieving and have a proper home environment especially after we have received high quality training from a recognized IGDF accredited school. These kinds of things are already assessed by the training schools and again, this sounds like a make work project to me. If our veterinarians suggest we change the type or quantity of food our dogs are to receive, most of us make those changes without question. It doesn’t need to be imposed upon us by a standard such as this.
With respect to how we transport our dogs in vehicles, this is covered by the training schools that we attend. Our guide dogs are routinely put at our feet on the floor in the front seat with us in most vehicles or on the floor in the back seat beside us in others. Restraint harnesses, kennels, etc. are completely unrealistic!
Finally, why is it necessary for assessors to review the veterinary records of our dogs? If the dogs receive regular veterinary care and that is taught in school that it is required, it is a massive invasion of privacy for government or other inspectors to review those records so that we can have access to public places. What happens if the inspector disagrees with the care plan proposed by the vet? Are we then denied certification and do the inspectors then determine whether or not we need a new dog? Who gives them that authority? Those of us who seek advice and follow-up care from the schools that train our dogs already have the help we need. We don’t need the help of some other well-meaning bureaucrat or business professional.
It is very clear that throughout section 8 of this document, the Committee does not trust people with disabilities to properly care for their dogs. This is a very sad state of affairs given the composition of this committee.
In the section entitled Handler’s Knowledge and Application of Humane Training found in section 8.1.3 of the Standards Document, there is absolutely no need for this type of inspection. The handler’s knowledge is assessed by the school who trains the individual with their dog during training. If a handler is unable to grasp what is required, they will not return home with their dog. If follow-up is required once the team returns home, most of the reputable guide dog training schools provide such follow-up either over the phone, by videoconference or by sending a trainer depending on the circumstances. How is an assessor who may or may not be familiar with the techniques used to train dogs from multiple guide dog schools going to determine whether or not a candidate is successful? There are many ways to train guide dogs that are acceptable and approved by the IGDF. All of them should be respected.
I would say the following in relation to all of section 8. The inspection process is going to take hours to do if everybody is required to go through all of the steps. Is this really necessary given the fact that most guide dog teams are trained for a minimum of two weeks and for a maximum of four weeks before they return home?
With respect to the service dog’s equipment, my comments regarding slip collars and muzzles identified above should be included here as well.
In the section entitled health evaluation found at section 22.214.171.124 of the Standards Document, why is any of this necessary? If it is required as part of this standard, is it sufficient for all of this information to be provided by turning over the final veterinary records issued by the guide dog training school? It seems redundant to have yet another health evaluation done within days of the team returning home. Also, who pays for this assessment? My concern applies only if the records from the school are not permitted to be used. American veterinary records should be accepted under this arrangement since there are no appreciable differences in service quality between Canadian and American veterinarians.
Under the section entitled Evaluation for Separation from Handler found in section 126.96.36.199, how realistic is this situation for a person who uses a guide dog? Our dogs would never become separated from us in a public place since they are on leash with us at all times and we are trained to keep our dogs under control. I would never willingly turn over my dog to an individual in a public place, unless I knew them. Since I only leave my dog with people who I trust and people that they already know, anxiety is never an issue on that basis. My dog is rarely left with others to begin with. Frankly speaking, this is a silly requirement for guide dog teams.
Under the heading Team Fit found in section 8.3.1 of the Standards Document, I find it very difficult to fathom that an inspector will know better than the school who trains our dogs whether or not there is a proper team fit between the handler and the dog. The school that I attend does a comprehensive evaluation process where we fill in a variety of forms, go on walks, are observed in our day-to-day behaviour, etc. before we get our dogs. New applicants are often exposed to home visits so that the living environment for the dog may be assessed. How is some assessor going to do a better job than that? This process will be a complete waste of time for everybody involved when dealing with guide dog teams.
I make the same comments throughout the entirety of section 8.3 of this document since an assessor will not be able to make any better evaluation than the one that has already made by the training school before allowing the guide dog team to return home.
Testing (Standards Document, section 9)
As a general matter, who performs the testing? Is an individual required to undergo both an inspection and testing? This seems duplicative and redundant. Both processes also seem to be completely unnecessary when evaluating guide dog teams that are already trained by reputable guide dog training schools accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation.
It is suggested during testing that the handler may not issue a harsh command/reprimand or manipulate the service dog. Does this mean we cannot scold our dog if they behave inappropriately? Does this mean that we cannot issue a leash correction if a dog trained as a guide dog misses a down curve or bangs us into an object? When these dogs return home from their training schools with us, their work is by no means perfect since they are still adjusting to us as we are adjusting to them. Their work gets better over time as they become accustomed to us and our environment.
With respect to all of the testing situations such as aggression towards the handler, food distractions, other visual and noise distractions such as playgrounds, etc., all of the reputable guide dog training schools expose their dogs to these environments and train them appropriately. If a dog fails any of those tests, they generally do not graduate from the program. If an individual has trouble with any of these environments when they return home, professional assistance is sought. Professional assistance is rarely required for any of these kinds of incidents. Most difficulties occur in relation to other dogs, and difficult environmental conditions such as unusual Street crossings and the like. Like most of the other testing prescribed in this standard, this kind of testing would be a waste of time for most guide dog teams.
Under the heading Obedience Skills found in section 9.1.2, it is unreasonable from my perspective to expect a dog to sit for five minutes. If I was going to be stationary for that long, in a particular environment, I would at least allow my dog to go to a down position and protect her or him appropriately. Requiring a dog to sit for that long is ridiculous!
People with guide dogs usually do not put their dogs at stay off leash and walk away from them for any period of time unless they are left at home or in a secure location such as a kennel or tied to a bed chain. This test does not seem to be necessary.
With respect to the Leave It command as described here, those of us who are blind may not know that the high-value food item is on the floor until our dog actually makes a move to try and get it. At that stage, we would correct the dog and avoid them taking the item. While it would be ideal if our dog did not lunge towards the item, the effect if the dog did not do so would be that we wouldn’t even know it was there. The more appropriate situation for us to manage is what to do when the dog does in fact go after the item and whether or not we have that situation under control.
I do not support the guidelines regarding the use of the heel position, especially as they concern the leash drop. This is not a situation that a person with a guy dog would find themselves in, as we are trained to have good control of our dog while they are at heel. We are also taught not to do 180 degree turns with our dog in a heel position. Requiring these dogs to behave perfectly without potentially giving a leash correction is unrealistic, given the short amount of time that we may be working with these dogs after we return home and before we are tested.
In all of these testing requirements, it is not clear to me what happens if only a small number of tasks are not performed adequately by the dog. Does this mean the dog is denied certification? Does the dog have to perform perfectly in all situations to achieve certification? If the dog fails one test once, are they prevented from being certified ever or is there a retest available? None of these things have been clarified in the standard at all.
Under the heading Safe to the Public under section 188.8.131.52, it is not clear why a handler cannot issue a harsh verbal command to their dog if they are misbehaving. Scolding is much better than giving any kind of a physical correction such as a leash correction. We are taught in training to use a continuum of corrections from verbal to physical in the form of a leash correction. There are times that our dogs do need to be corrected while in public, no matter how seasoned they may be. Removing the ability of a handler to correct their dog verbally or through the use of a leash correction, solely to satisfy the public, may ultimately put our safety at risk. Dogs make mistakes, just like us. We can’t expect perfection.
Under the heading unobtrusive in section 184.108.40.206 of the Standards Document, it is not always realistic that a person with a guide dog in a large city will be able to remain stationary or stop in an area free from traffic while on public transit. Anybody who has used a guide dog in rush hour knows that buses and trains are full, and it is often very difficult to find a spot, let alone stay still when other passengers are ebbing and flowing around you. It is often necessary to move backwards or forwards while on the conveyance to keep your dog in a safe place. While it is desirable to get a seat if you can, it’s not always possible. Similarly, it may not be possible to exit the vehicle without disrupting members of the public in some way. There needs to be a fair bit of latitude here, especially if the dog is being asked to navigate around strollers, wheelchairs, luggage and other obstacles that may be in the aisle.
I reiterate my comments regarding attacking dogs, and interactions with other people, as expressed in section 5, above. They apply equally to the testing. As with the inspection criteria as presented earlier in my comments on section 8 of the Standards Document.
Invalid Presumptions and Missing Items
The authors of the Standards Document have proceeded on the basis that it is the conduct of service dog users and only service dog users who need to have their actions regulated by this standard. No mention is made as to how members of the public, industry and others need to have their own behaviours regulated. If the Standards Document requires us to abide by laws, policies and standards of airlines for example, there should be a requirement for airlines to ensure that their policies and procedures comply with human rights legislation and applicable decisions from the courts and human rights commissions. They should also have a good understanding of privacy legislation. Misinterpretations of human rights and privacy legislation by employees should not be used to impose unnecessary barriers to access by an airline as happens far too frequently in this country. An airline’s position on an access issue should not be presumed to be valid as this Standards Document suggests when it requires us to comply with such policies and procedures. If an airline’s policies and procedures conflict with the existing law, the applicable law prevails, not the policy or procedure.
Next, the Standards Document doesn’t say anything about how members of the public should interact with service dog teams. This is a fundamental public education problem that a standard like this could assist Canadian society with by providing appropriate direction. Instead, the authors of the Standards Document have focused on how we interact with the public instead on how the public should interact with us. Both are important here. The authors of the Standards Document shouldn’t presume that the public knows how to interact with us as dog handlers. Quite simply, the public doesn’t have these skills and the general public needs to acquire them.
For all of the reasons stated above, I believe that these standards require a massive rewrite. There needs to be recognition that because of the long history of successful use, people with guide dogs should be exposed to a different regulatory regime than other service dog handlers. The guide dog schools have already established an accreditation body known as the International Guide Dog Federation which has developed standards that schools and teams must meet before they can graduate and function in public. There is no reason why the Canadian government or any of its administrative bodies need to develop these standards, which duplicate existing standards, impose unrealistic and unnecessary requirements or are so paternalistic that they devalue the capabilities of people with disabilities to make rational, sensible and proper decisions regarding their dogs. The standards imposed in this document are higher than those imposed on parents raising children in today’s society to protect their own children from harm. The standards seem to exist more to protect the dog than to respect the dignity of the handler. There needs to be a balance here to ensure that everybody remains safe on the one hand, and that the individual rights and freedoms of people to make sensible decisions while weighing and managing the appropriate risks on the other. Canine safety and human dignity do not need to be exclusive. It is not the authority of this Committee to act as big brother for all guide and service dog teams in Canada.
Robert J. Fenton, Calgary, Alberta
July 3, 2017