Thursday, July 07, 2011

Complaint Against the Maine Department of Health & Human Services, Bangor, Maine

Complainant: Heather E. Gerquest

Address:       71 Third St. #9
Bangor,         Maine 04401
Phone:          (207)947-2910/478-6996

To: Attn. Scott Cates
     State of Maine- DHHS
     396 Griffin Road
     Bangor, Maine 04401-9975

Date of Incident:       Wednesday- July 6, 2011
Time of Incident:       Approx. 13:30
Location of Incident: Main Entrance to the DHHS offices on Griffin Rd./ 2nd set of doors.

Accompanied by my service dog, I was entering the DHHS building to drop off my review paperwork. The line was back to the second (inside) set of doors to the building. A man had a Manchester Terrier or Min Pin dog on a leash. When that dog caught sight of my service dog, the dog began lunging barking and growling at my dog. My dog was only a few feet away from the other dog. I decided I would not wait but would just drop my paperwork off and on my way out was speaking to a person who apparently worked at DHHS. On her way out, she promptly kicked a woman who had a puppy on a leash (who was behaving well I must say) stating to the person with the pup “Don’t worry, you’re not the first puppy I’ve thrown out today.” I mentioned that she should have thrown the other dog out that had lunged and growled at my service dog and she states that the man with the dog said it was a “Therapy” dog, then corrected herself to say “service dog”. I told her that a service dog can be removed from a public setting if it is considered a safety risk to others, and that there was a $1,000 fine for an attack on a service dog by another dog. The woman basically told me that there were a lot of dogs and that is why the dog reacted as such, but having been with large groups of individuals with service dogs on many occasions, if the dog is trained/trained properly, the service dog will not respond in such a manner. The woman said that she has a “service dog” at home (?) that would have done the same thing as the Min Pin. I told her that my dog has sat under a table with up to 10 other service dogs (nose-to-nose with some) with no problems. She says that my dog is well-trained. Service dogs are supposed to be trained. I didn’t mention the fact that none of the other 9 dogs had any problems either (Why? Because they had been properly trained.) The woman said that I could always come back when the guy with the little terrier was gone which totally outraged me. First of all, if this man is indeed disabled, and if this dog is actually trained (or in training) to be a service dog, we are both to be accommodated. However, if his dog was actually behaving like a service dog, accommodating 2 service dog teams separately would not even be a consideration. Considering his dog was misbehaving, why should I have to be the one to leave and come back?? My dog was fine. The man had to hold his dog to keep it from looking and bothering my dog. Even then, he had to work hard at keeping the dog from staring down my dog. When the man put the dog back down, the dog turned around and continued to stare back at my dog. It would be hard for a service dog to do his job if he is busy staring down a service dog behind him/his human. In my group of peers, a dog that behaved like that would be forced to retire early or wash out of training.

In the state of Maine, there is a $1,000 fine for having a dog that attacks a service dog. “A person who owns or keeps a dog that attacks, injures or kills a service animal while the service animal is in discharge of its duties commit’s a civil violation for which a forfeiture of not more than $1,000 may be adjudged. When a person is adjudicated or a violation of this section, the court shall order the person to make restitution to the owner or the service animal for any veterinary bills, and necessary retraining costs or replacement costs of the service animal if it is disabled or killed.” (Title 7; Part 9; Ch 729; ss3961-A)

There is also a $500 fine for misrepresenting a dog as a service dog. “A person who fit’s a dog with a harness, collar, vest or sign of the type commonly used by blind persons in order to represent that the dog is a service dog, or commonly used by a person with disabilities to represent that the dog is a service dog when training of the type that guide dogs normally receive has not been provided or when the dog does not meet the definition of “service Dog” as defined in section 1312 commit’s a civil violation for which a fine of not more than $500 can be adjudged.” (Title 17; Ch 47; sub.2; ss1314-A)

This woman who apparently works at DHHS (Didn't get her name) stated that they had a big meeting regarding service dogs and SD laws recently (?). I would argue that if that is so, that they (DHHS) need more training on the laws and rights of the business (i.e.- DHHS) other customers/clients, and other service dog teams. One meeting doesn’t make a person an expert in the service dog field.

I have been active with a few different service dog advocacy groups, listservs, and was an active member of the State of Maine’s “Updating the Definition of Service Dog” work group/advisory group. I have a blog that journals my journey of raising and training my own service dog. The blog has updates on both state and federal laws, articles of access issues and lists of resources that I found helpful in educating a reader about service dogs, or assist someone who wants to raise and train their own service dog. I researched service dogs and therapy dogs etc. for several years before getting my puppy. If I can be of any assistance with education about service dogs, you can call me. I can also suggest other resources as well.

Basically, I am tired of taking my service dog into public places and running into “service dogs” that lunge, bark and growl at my service dog when she is trying to work. This is unacceptable service dog behavior and a disabled person with such dog can be legally asked to remove the dog and return for use of services without. When dogs do this, they are distracting my service dog from her work. Not real great if she needs to alert me.

Maine State Law states: A service dog can be legally excluded…“ When it is shown by defense that the service animal poses a direct threat, or significant risk to the health and safety of others or the use of the service animal would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others or would substantially interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of the public accommodations by others.” (Title 5; Part 12; Ch 337; sub-5; ss 4592-8)

It is after all the individual with the disability that has the right to public access, not the service dog. SD laws were created to prevent discrimination against individuals who utilize service dogs as adaptive devices to assist them in public with their disabling conditions. (Service Dogs are not considered pets under law).

Obviously I would question the validity of the dog being a service dog at all based on it’s behavior. (However the only questions one can ask is 1- Is that your service dog required for a disability? 2- What kind of work/tasks does the dog do for you?) I personally would have kicked that dog out and let the puppy another person had in there stay (could have been a service dog in training which have the same rights to access as full fledged service dogs do). The puppy was sitting and behaving. Instead I am told to leave and come back later? No I think not. I would also question the apparent DHHS worker who claimed her dog at home was a service dog based on what she told me about her dog’s behavior, but mostly because her dog was not with her. Typically a person with a valid disability requires the use of his/her service dog 24/7. One cannot turn on and turn off a disability. However, if it is actually her service dog and not a therapy dog or emotional support dog, it is none of my business what her disability is (which she must be disabled to utilize a service dog). Most people I know often require their service dogs MORE outside the home than in., though that varies. (There are service dogs who are not approved or trained for public access that work only at home. I don‘t know of any.) However I am not here to judge the validity of anyone’s disability. Not my place.

I recommend that DHHS get more in depth training on service dogs and service dogs in training and the individuals who use them. In general, businesses tend to be afraid of approaching a service dog team and asking that a service dog who is out of control be removed from the premise in fear of a legal battle. However, these businesses do have rights too.

I suggest that not only does DHHS need education on state service dog laws, they should also learn about the federal service dog laws (in the ADA).

The other clients of the business also have rights if a service dog is not behaving appropriately (i.e.- not being a threat to anyone else -or their service dogs, not ruin the experience of other clients, not pose a possible safety risk to others, appear as unobtrusive as possible). The handler of a service dog has rights, but he/she also has responsibilities to the public as well.

Education on the difference between service dogs, emotional support animals and therapy animals (and companion animals which are pets) could be helpful in making sure people know the difference. Many people do not know the difference, and it can be confusing.  The Maine Human Rights Commission's version of Maine State service dog laws only continues to confuse the definitions and blur the different titles.  MHRC has taken the Maine law and translated it to their own liking.  Your best bet is getting a hold of a pamphlet of  service dog laws in Maine as they are written.

I would recommend DHHS calling “The Tail Waggin Training Center” in Levant which is a facility that trains service dogs. They also have a “Handler-training program for those who are disabled but capable of training their own service dogs with assistance. You can reach the Bouliers (Lynn & Rob) who own and run the Tail Waggin Training Center at 884-7017.

If necessary, mediation can be arranged to make sure this matter is deallt with appropriately.

**Enclosed are some Resources I feel might be of help.


Sutton and Suzie the Sugar Gliders said...

(There are service dogs who are not approved or trained for public access that work only at home. I don‘t know of any.)

Yes FHA/HUD, ACAA Service Animals do not have the same Public Access as ADA Service Animals. They are used only in their Dwellings or are only allowed in public while traveling.

Heather Gerquest said...

I wasn't talking about Emotional Suupport Pets. I have met some people and spoken to a person who has an at-home-only service dog. It would be like an over-educated emotional support dog in some cases, but they may provide physical assistance instead of just emotional support. These dogs may have done poorly in the public access part of service dog training, or the person deems themselves not disabled enough to need a service dog in public. Of course the dog at DHHS was too small to provide too much physical aid to it's human, if indeed this dog was at all a service animal.