Service Animal Protection Bill Passed

When Phillip Kragnes’ guide dog was attacked by another dog several years ago, it was so seriously injured that he had to retire the dog and spent thousands of dollars out of his own pocket for a replacement. Starting August 1, 2004, Kragnes and hundreds of other service animal users will have peace of mind knowing that they will be covered financially by a new law signed last week by Governor Tim Pawlenty and co-author Representative Paul Kohls (R Victoria) and Senator Chuck Wiger (DFL-St. Paul). Under the new law, if a service animal is attacked by another person’s dog, the service animal owner can receive restitution for losses including veterinary expenses, lost wages and animal replacement.

Kragnes is President of Minnesota Guide Dog Users (MNGDU), a non-profit organization that promotes the acceptance of dog guides, works for the standardization and enforcement of laws protecting them, and provides educational and public awareness services. Service animals are highly trained and greatly enhance a disabled person’s life. However, they are frequently attacked by other animals. A 2003 survey determined that approximately 42 percent of guide dog teams had experienced at least one attack, and 89 percent experienced interference by a loose or uncontrolled dog. When their companion is attacked, the handler’s mobility and freedom are severely restricted. If a service animal is left ineffective due to an altercation, an owner may be forced to spend a significant amount of time and expense to replace and/or retrain the animal.

“This law will provide increased incentives for owners to maintain control of their dogs,” said Kragnes. “Our goal is not to put someone in jail, but we [service animal handlers] feel that when our dogs are attacked, we should not have to suffer the financial consequences.” “Attacks can be exceedingly costly in terms of veterinary care and retraining,” Kohls said. “The intent of this bill is not to jail an individual because of their dog’s actions, but to give courts the option of making that person pay for the damage.” “Service animals provide essential assistance to their handlers,” said Wiger, who was asked by a North St. Paul constituent to address the issue. “Attacks are traumatic and emotionally taxing on both the service animal and the owner. In the event of an attack, service animal owners need to know they will not be forced to bear the costs.”

Contacts: Wiger, (651) 296-6820, Kohls (651) 296-4282, Kranges (612) 626-0365.