People who rely on service animals will benefit from a change in state law, effective August 1. A law sponsored by Rep. Zachary Dorholt, DFL-St. Cloud, and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, amended a state statute regarding service animals. One change brings the state law in line with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, and eliminates outdated language.
“It helps clarify the definition of service animal as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Dorholt said. “Service animals are defined as dogs that do tasks for people with disabilities. Service animals are working animals not pets.”
Another change deletes a state law provision that required service dog to be properly identified as being trained. This was done through papers that are carried by the dog’s owner. The papers stated that the dog was from a recognized training program. Some owners found it difficult to always have papers with them, and considered the requirement to be a hassle.
Groups that work with service dogs do see the change as beneficial. People with service dogs have had problems in the past. Twin Cities resident Judy Mielke and her retired service dog, Ben, are inseparable. Mielke is blind and has cerebral palsy. She and Ben, who worked together for six years, were recently featured in a KSTP-TV story.
A few years ago, a restaurant owner told Mielke’s family they couldn’t book a reservation with a service dog. She filed a discrimination complaint and won. “As a practical matter, some people will challenge somebody using a guide dog and ask for proof that it’s a guide dog,” said Chris Bell, a retired lawyer and disability rights advocate. He explained the new law to KSTP-TV. During the 2013 session he also testified to help pass the new law.
Bell, who is blind, didn’t usually carry his dog’s proof of training. He has been questioned before. “I was on a beach with (service dog) Ryan and he had his harness on, and I don’t know whether this person was in charge of the beach, he came over and said, ‘you’re not allowed to have dogs on the beach.’ And I said ‘This is a guide dog, and I’m allowed to have him wherever I’m allowed to go.’ And he challenged me and said, ‘how do I know it’s a guide dog?’” Bell said.
“The experience of being challenged doesn’t happen all that often, but it does happen, and it did violate federal law,” Bell said. [Information from KSTP-TV and Session Daily was used in this article]