Having worked with a guide dog for nearly 18 months, I have lived a pretty charmed life as it comes to access concerns.  I have had a couple of concerned fast-food restaurant cashiers express their worries about Jenny having an accident on the floor, had a cab company’s customer service rep make the unfortunate decision to refer to Jenny as my “pet”, and was once the center of a brief discussion between a Dunkin Donuts employee and another customer.  But beyond that, for me, it has been relatively smooth sailing.  I have no illusions that I am fortunate; others have been turned away from airlines, restaurants and taxis simply for using a service dog to aid their independence while living with a variety of disabilities.

We have come a long way since the first guide dog handlers fought for access to public places, and still evidently have a long way to go.  But a proposed amendment to an Arizona bill could have set service dog access rights back over 25 years, and set a pretty scary precedent to overturn federal laws.

In a nutshell, apparently Arizona has seen a proliferation of fake service dogs – “bad actors,” according to the representative who proposed the amendment; also, legitimate service dogs apparently present a profound risk to the general public.  His response to this was this bill, which – among other scary prospects – would have granted restaurants the right to post signs stating that service dogs were not welcome (an irony, since a major population that use them can’t see well enough to read such prejudicial signs).  It would also require individuals with disabilities and their service dogs to be licensed through the Arizona Department of health Services, a permit which would need to be renewed regularly.

An urgent message went out over Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday night, with many very angry guide dog handlers at a loss for words.  Many Arizonans who use service dogs – guide dogs, mobility dogs – turned out in force on voting day on Thursday, living proof that the phantom problems that are alleged to exist are miniscule in scope.  The bill was ultimately voted down, even by the representative who first proposed it.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief on the news, not because I have a burning desire to visit Arizona but because if other states (and ultimately the US federal government) follow the lead of this bill it would make it legal for a business to deny me access purely based on my disability.

I love the fluidity, the teamwork, and the independence of traveling with a guide dog.  If someone is very allergic to dogs, I do what I can to keep a distance, and make extra sure that Jenny doesn’t start playing Doggie for Mayor.  A Fear of dogs will make me vigilent about keeping her close to me and as low-key as possible.  I am not unsympathetic to those who have very real allergies, and very real gut-level fears, but Jenny has kept me active, mobile and safe for the past 18 months.  Thousands of dogs like her are doing their jobs all over the world, and so long as the dogs are behaving and under control, they should be permitted to continue doing so.

Oh, and by the way?  I have never come across a “fake” service dog…

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