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Hurley dog incident gives some paws for thought

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Guest opinion

By MARTHA M. LAFFERTY

On March 19, state Rep. Julia Hurley entered the Roane County Courthouse with her Chinese crested dog, “Pepper.”

When court officials noticed her dog tagging behind on his leash, they proceeded to evict her from the courthouse.

 In the aftermath of this incident, comments regarding Rep. Hurley’s actions and information regarding service animal requirements flooded the media.

This attention prompted Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee and the Statewide Independent Living Council to meet with Rep. Hurley and share information with her about the Americans with Disabilities Act’s service animal requirement.

At the end of the meeting, Hurley expressed her support of the two organizations in educating the public and raising awareness of this critical matter.

 For the most part, the media’s references to the ADA’s service animal requirement were accurate — a service animal is a dog individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.

(For more information, visit www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm.)
However, in this instance, Hurley’s dog, though a former service animal, was not performing a task for her.

Pets, companion animals and therapy dogs do not meet ADA requirements since they do not do work or perform a task, such as guiding a person who is blind.

These types of misunderstandings are common, yet scenarios such as these create confusion and make it more difficult for persons with disabilities to fully access their communities.

For example, Disability Law & Advocacy Center previously represented a woman who is blind after a medical facility would not allow her to enter the building with her service animal.

 It is important that the public understand and receive correct information about service animals.

The right to enter a public place is not attached to the animal, but rather to the person with a disability who needs the help of the service animal to participate fully in everyday life.

This provision creates a more receptive environment for people with disabilities.
Imagine, if someone who is blind were meeting her friends for dinner and the restaurant denied access to her service animal, then she could not go in at all.

People with disabilities who use service animals should be able to go out to eat, go to the grocery store, visit their doctor’s office, etc. without worrying they will be turned away due to ignorance about their legal rights.

Martha M. Lafferty is managing attorney at Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee—the federally mandated agency charged with protecting the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities.