Seeing-eye dogs aren’t the only kind of service dogs helping Canadians on a daily basis. Service dogs are trained to help those with autism, post traumatic stress disorder, diabetes and more.
Currently, schools in Ontario aren’t required to provide accommodations for service dogs who help students, but Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris hopes to change that with Bill 80: the Ontario Service Dogs Act.
He says schools aren’t considered public buildings after the implementation of the controlled access systems, with cameras and buzzers, on school doors a few years back. The Waterloo Catholic District School Board doesn’t currently allow service dogs unless they are considered seeing eye dogs. He was contacted by parents looking for guidance and a little help.
“There were several families that contacted me because they have children with autism, and they see their service dog as being extremely beneficial in managing their child. There are a lot of symptoms that come with autism, whether they are prone to running off or they have episodes and the dog is there to console them and act as an anchor for the child,” he said.
In 2016, Harris introduced a bill that would give all service dogs the same rights as seeing-eye dogs, but when Kathleen Wynne prorogued the provincial legislature in the fall, the bill was taken off the list. Now, he has made a few changes and is back in legislature asking other MPPs to read and support his Ontario Service Dogs Act. He has already received support from the public across Canada.
“I am very humbled by the amount of support I have gotten for this from people right across the country,” he said. “I had a couple from out east that were travelling to Toronto who met with me. I have been very thankful for the amount of support that we have for this bill and the education it has provided for people that are new to the idea.”
This time around, Harris has added some provisions to Bill 80 that would extend the allowances and accommodations to service dogs in training, as well.
“It is crucial they get all the experience they can in these facilities they will eventually be going into when they are working dogs. We have extended service dogs in training in the bill. We are talking about tens of thousands of dollars invested in these dogs to make them professionals. The Lions will come into the classroom and teach students how to interact, or not, with a service dog,” he said. “Service dogs have enabled people with autism, PTSD and other disabilities to navigate the world. They have been such a benefit for them that we felt it was unfortunate they didn’t have the same rights. Society needs to realize the benefit of these service dogs to people who have them. We want to close the gaps.”