Boundaries Keep Moving

“It’s not the dog in the fight, it’s the fight in the dog that counts”

In my last post I mention two stories that had caught my attention and went on to explain one of them.  That was the story regarding the Quebec restaurant and the patron with a serious allergy situation.  I touched on the history of inclusive advocacy, reflected on terminology and presented my case for shared responsibility.

The second story has been spurred on by a recent event but one that has become reflective of societal thinking.  It’s a sensitive issue that pits various disability demographics against each other and that’s the topic of service dogs.  I cannot stress enough on the difference between a “service” animal and a “comfort” animal.

The recent event involved meeting up with a longtime friend for lunch and a beer.  Normally I wouldn’t reference his visual impairment because it has little to do with our friendship but is quite germane to the topic.  He has a service dog (Dusty).  I had called in advance to check on wheelchair accessibility and everything sounded fine except…the establishment didn’t understand that attending service animals are part of access.

After a brief discussion we entered and took a table.  The owner (I’m assuming the owner although he never actually used that title) approached us to apologize for the confusion with Dusty.  Now bare with me because this is my jaded side, his apology (appreciated) became a long story of justification.  I’m more and more convinced that people have forgotten how to just say “sorry” and move on when an apology has been expressed.  An extended narrative from basically a stranger is not required with an apology.

He did raise some very good points.  He explained previous experiences where customers have shown up with “a dog in a vest” but no licence for a service dog.  We discussed his knowledge base at running a restaurant, not a human rights office.  He’s kept busy making sure restaurant standards, food prep, sanitation, occupational health and safety, blah, blah, blah are maintain.  He runs an establishment where most animals are prohibited for food safety purposes so how is he to know which animal is which.  Unfortunately he is right.  A quick Google brought me over a million hits or I could order a service vest off of Amazon, no questions asked.  It is easy to understand his frustration and confusion.  He isn’t alone.

Service animal legislation tends to be provincial jurisdiction while what a service animal is happens to be defined in a number of pieces of national regulations.  In other words what you think is a service animal may, in fact, be a “comfort” animal and that is a whole different can of worms.  This is where conflict between disability demographics begins to raise its ugly head.  Restaurants Canada provides a rudimentary Best Practices sheet on what kind of legislation directs treatment of service animals.

The current patchFireStarterswork of rules, regulations and policies regarding service animals was basically designed around guide dogs.  Their fight was to get recognition and protection for their service animal.  This was back in a time where we spoken primarily of “guide dogs”.  My concern here is a slow erosion of rights fought hard for in the 80’s and 90’s by the visually impaired community due to the changing face of disability.

In this expanded community we now use some form of animal for PTSD, autism, anxiety disorders, severe allergy management, seizure disorders, and the list continues to grow.  As this list continue to grow and an increasing amount of comfort animals fall through the bureaucratic cracks the whole seriousness of service animals is being eroded.  It has now eroded to the point where even landlords knowingly refuse legitimate service dogs.

It’s time for the new “players” at the table of activism to step up to the challenge of legislative reform that will work for them.  Many in my generation of activists have either left this world or are past their best before date.  I have outlived many of my activism peers but after 50 years of “fighting the good fight“I would really like to just sit back and kick back.  However, based on current relationships, I have some concerns over the commitment or knowledge level of the new generation of activists.  too many in the new generation confuse I’ve seen too many confuse peer support with activism.  The peer support process does not usually involve system changers.  A good activist goes after the solution not reinvent the problem.

Not only do you have to fight for advancement, you need to protect and understand gains made…


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