New bill aims to help those with service animals

New bill aims to help those with service animals

Posted:
Three-year-old Lola the lab goes everywhere her owner does. Three-year-old Lola the lab goes everywhere her owner does.
"The dog is wonderful. When I am in a place I know nothing of, she takes over directing," Dr. Ruth Smith said. "The dog is wonderful. When I am in a place I know nothing of, she takes over directing," Dr. Ruth Smith said.
"The interesting thing is there is no credential. You can go online and you can actually pay for an agency or a group to provide credentials to your service animal, but they're not real," said advocate Angela Webster. "The interesting thing is there is no credential. You can go online and you can actually pay for an agency or a group to provide credentials to your service animal, but they're not real," said advocate Angela Webster.

By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - What qualifies a dog to legally be a service animal in Tennessee? Do they have to graduate from a guide dog school? Pass a state test?

There's a lot of gray area and now a new bill is attempting to clarify things.

Three-year-old Lola the lab goes everywhere her owner does.

That is what the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees.

"I trust her with my life," said Dr. Ruth Smith, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 25 years ago, compromising her balance and her sight.

"The dog is wonderful. When I am in a place I know nothing of, she takes over directing," Smith said.

Dr. Smith got Lola two years ago from Leader Dogs for the Blind, and has encountered very few problems taking her in public.

"Once on a city bus I was asked for papers. I had groceries, I had a dog," Smith said. 

Under the ADA, a business is only allowed to ask a dog owner two things: Is that a service dog? What does it do for you?

Under current Tennessee law, however, businesses can also ask for credentials issued by an accredited school for training dog guides.

According to Angela Webster with the Disability Law and Advocacy Center of Tennessee, those credentials do not exist.

"The interesting thing is there is no credential. You can go online and you can actually pay for an agency or a group to provide credentials to your service animal, but they're not real," Webster said.

A bill to bring state law in line with the ADA has been introduced this legislative session by Senator Becky Duncan Massey. She's also the director of the Sertoma Center in Knoxville, which services adults with intellectual disabilities.

"Our individuals that have disabilities already are having to deal with quite a bit without having to worry about carrying papers with them," Sen. Massey said.

The bill and the ADA basically put people on the honor system.

Last year, then State Representative Julia Hurley brought her 11-pound Chinese Crested into the Roane County courthouse claiming it was a service dog and its service was companionship.

Therapy and companion dogs are not considered service animals under the law and neither are monkeys or pigs as others have tried to claim.

"I don't believe laws should be there for the least common denominator," Sen. Massey said. "I think we've got to go from what's the right thing to do and hopefully most folks will do the right thing and be respectful."

Dr. Smith agrees and hopes the bill passes so she and Lola have less to worry about on their adventures.

"We live," Dr. Smith said. "Whatever's on our plate, we give thanks for."

Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and WATE. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.