Thursday, April 03, 2008

Now LD #2285... The Fate of Service Dogs in the State of Maine

SD-IT Cain & PSD Rosie behaving like service dogs should!

As you may have read earlier in my blog, Maine tried to pass LD #289 and it was basically defeated or thrown out before the public hearing even took place. From there, a Task Force was created in order to come to some sort of resolution that did not violate anyone's rights. For months we met and we handed in the results of our hard work in the middle of January so the legislature could review it.

Yesterday they had the first public hearing regarding the results from the task force. Many people stood up and spoke in support of this possible new bill. When they got to the people who opposed, a person stood up and was soon joined by two of her buddies. Now this person wasn't just anyone. She had been a member of the task force as well. When we received a copy of the LD #289 revisions, we were told to review it and if we had any problems with it to share it and we could fix it. It has been about 4 months now since that opportunity as come and gone and no one spoke up as having a problem with the way it was. Well this woman stood up "Against" the very revision that she helped put together! She and her buddies (and there horribly behaving guide dogs) represented the Pine Tree State Guide Dog Users. Basically the problem they had with it is that they didn't believe that people with mental disabilities should have a right to service animals, saying that a service dog should not be used merely for emotional support. I agree. Why? Because my dog does not merely provide emotional support to me. As the ADA requests, I am a disabled person and I have a dog that does work or performs tasks that mitigate my disability, thus not only improving my quality of life, but giving me life. What I have discovered it that many people with physical disabilities have some sort of prejudice towards people with psychiatric disabilities... like we are in some way less disabled or less deserving of a service dog. This is a sad thing when people with disabilities discriminate between people with other disabilities. They hate being discriminated against, yet they have no problem discriminating others with different disabilities.

What got me even more was that the representatives were already talking about how to revise what the task force handed in before the people with the rowdy guide dogs even sat down. It was like they already had a decision not to accept it the way we had written it. This was a real stab in the back from a fellow Task Force member.

The initial purpose of this bill was so the city clerks (or town clerks) knew who had a real service dog so that they were getting their money from the dog licensing. Service dogs get a fee waiver. That means not having to pay $6 -$11 to license your dog every year. It seems trivial, but the way it is looked at is this: A service animal is basically "adaptive equipment". We have our service dogs so that we can have access to opportunities that without we may not be able to access due to limitations cause by our disabilities. No one else needs to pay a fee to gain access to these things and so it is considered discrimination to make someone with a service dog have to pay a fee. Someone in a wheel chair doesn't have to pay a fee every year. Infact, many times those wheel chairs (or other forms of adaptive equipment) are covered by medical insurance. Service dogs are not. I am the one who pays for the classes, the vaccines, the vet visits, the eye clinics, the food... and she is worth it because she has changed my life in so many incredible ways... no human has ever been able to do these things for me. The quote "The more people I meet, the more I love my dog" is now so true to me! All the dysfunction, pain and guilt and misery put upon me by the traditional treatment methods has left me more scarred than when I first saught out help!
Presently there is nothing we can do but wait to hear something. If this gets thrown out, we cannot resubmit a new one for 2 years because it is an election year. If this goes through the way the guide dog users want it to, it will then become a federal case as it will then be breaking the ADA. There are people who are ready to pursue that fight if it comes to that.

The scary thing I have learned from all this is that (listen up!) the people who change and write our laws don't even have a clue about what the present laws are. Not one representative up there listening yesterday had a clue that what these Pine Tree people were asking was a violation of the ADA (A federal protection against discrimination act). Heck, these individuals from the Pine Tree State Guide Dog Users group didn't have a strong grasp of the ADA either! They only wanted what would benefit them regardless of anyone having their rights violated. Very self serving. And they spoke of how in many restaurants in the Augusta area (the Maine State Capitol) would not let them bring their guide dogs in with them. Stupid me, I wondered why when the answer was right in front of me through out the whole hearing. These dogs are out of control! The woman who attending the Task Force meetings with her guide dog could barely control the dog... a huge. oversized German Shepherd Dog who likes to lunge at other service dogs and whine and bark through meetings. I am actually surprised no one at the hearing asked them to remove their dogs! All three of the dogs were just really badly misbehaving. A puppy raiser who had an 18 month GSD with her (totally unruly) tried to excuse the dog's behavior as he is still a puppy (at 18 months??) and needed to be fixed desperately, and proceeded to knock the animal upside his head with a notebook to get him to behave. Meanwhile on the other side of the room, Rosie and a service dog in training that will be homed soon (handled by my training consultants from their facility) lay in front of us side by side sprawled out and snoring away quietly. Oh, and the Service dog in training is 16 months old, well behaved, and ready to go to his new home shortly!

I am really loving my dog a lot right now!!

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