New guide dog certification might be barking up wrong tree

News Provincial

On Jan. 18, 2016, the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act came into effect,  modernizing service and guide dog guidelines in B.C. The certification is optional, but is meant to provide guide dog users with an indisputable form of ID to clarify the need for their service animal, as well as inform the public that service animals meet a high standard of training.

However, University of Victoria student Georgia Pike says her own experiences make her question the good this new system will do.

The purpose of the new certification system is to make it more difficult to fake the need for a service dog, which harms the credibility of those with legitimate need. But there has been no formal documentation of fake service dogs in the province, legal or otherwise. To date, despite the province’s move to provide certification, all evidence of the subject is anecdotal, and far from conclusive. Pike feels that the implementation of a certification system gives strangers an excuse to demand her ID.

Pike can be seen around campus with her black lab, Grainger, who helps Pike to navigate everything from bustling cafeterias to tricky stairways. While members of the UVic community are generally welcoming and accepting of the pair, the greater Victoria area isn’t always so kind.

At least once per excursion off campus, Pike is asked to present ID to prove the legitimacy of her service dog or her disability. She has faced this demand from restaurants, shops, and one very angry bus driver.

Last February, Pike got on a bus with Grainger and a friend. Pike clung to the arm of her friend, clearly unable to navigate confidently on her own. Most bus drivers will ignore Grainger when Pike boards a bus, and simply ask her where she would like to get off. However, this particular bus driver took issue with her service dog.

Allegedly, the bus driver demanded to see Grainger’s ID, which Pike told him that she had forgotten that day. The bus driver deemed Pike’s own ID unacceptable to prove Grainger’s legitimacy and reprimanded her in front of everyone on the bus. Pike said the ordeal was humiliating and degrading.

“There’s only so much I can show them to say, ‘This is my service dog,’” said Pike. “It’s really debilitating, because I wake up every day, knowing that I have a disability, and to have to prove it to people who, really, it’s none of their business, what my limitations are, is very debilitating, both physically and emotionally.”

“With regard to the [Guide Dog and Service Dog Act,]” said Graeme McCreath, service dog user and treasurer of the Canadian Federation of the Blind, “we have been pushing the government and local municipalities to improve enforcement with a fine against discriminators who refuse us access.”

“Putting the onus of proving that access is a right onto the discriminated individual is such a harrowing and protracted experience,” said McCreath. “We feel that similar to a parking ticket, the person committing the refusal should have to defend themselves.”

Pike thinks that the government should put more energy into locating manufacturers of fake service dog gear. If these businesses were to be shut down, the certification system would be unnecessary and the privacy of service dog users would be protected.

“No amount of extra ID I gain will ever stop people from breaking the law or faking service dogs,” said Pike. “I think it needs to be stopped at the root; [we need to] charge people who are making the actual gear.”