Increasingly, fraudulent service dogs have been disrupting my life as a blind resident of Southern Vermont. On Jan. 18, my guide dog Ryan stood calmly and attentively at my side at the Bennington CVS, this, despite the sounds of a barking dog ahead of us in the store aisle. Ryan, like my previous guide dogs from Guiding Eyes for the Blind started training at 8 weeks old. After 16 months of work his volunteer puppy raiser returned him to the school where he was accepted for training. For six months highly skilled dog trainers taught him how to keep me safe on the edge of a train platform, how to show me doors, stairs, elevators, and curbs. He allows me to safely cross busy streets and to stop quickly when a careless driver crosses our path. At work at MAUHS, he gives me the freedom to travel my large busy school as if I had working eyes. But on that day in CVS, a barking uncontrolled dog wearing a vest saying "Service Dog" blocked our path. I spoke loudly and clearly over the barking dog. I asked the questions that business owners are allowed to legally ask, "Is this a service dog?" "Who does it work for?" What is the life function it performs?" No one answered my questions. Repeating myself didn’t help. Finally a man next to me said, "What business is it of yours anyway?" I believe all I could muster for an answer was: "Look at me and this real service dog. Your dog is not in control and you need to leave this store." A more complete response might have been, "It’s my business, because your disruptive dog is curbing my freedom and accessibility in this community." Eventually, the store manager spoke with us. She explained not knowing what to do in this type of situation. We explained the problem but in the end I left the store and the fraudulent "service dog" and its owners remained. Similar situations have occurred, at restaurants, grocery stores, and even church tag sales.
Blind people, veterans, families with autistic children, blind deaf individuals, and many others have trained service dogs. These dogs will be fully under control by their handler. They will have a particular purpose for a specific person. The handler will know their school name. The frauds are generally not under control and are not performing a life function. Real service dogs allow their users to not only travel safely, and confidently, but also enjoy the open doors of employment and businesses. Doors that are likely to be opened less warmly and widely due to the abuses of persons entering with vest wearing pets demanding they be treated the same as real service dogs.
How can you help? Service animals, real or not, must be under control of the handler. If not, they can be asked to leave. Business owners or individuals can ask the questions I did at CVS. You can also help by becoming a volunteer or a donor to a school like Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. You will be joining volunteers and donors already active in Bennington.
Support Peter Brady Sr.
I would just like to remind the voters before the upcoming select board election of one of the candidates’ commitment to the working people of Bennington. Peter Brady Sr. served two terms in the Vermont House of Representatives. Peter served on the House General Housing and Military Affairs committee. This committee oversees all legislation dealing with labor issues. As the clerk of the committee, Peter fought to make it easier to work and raise a family, whether it was fighting for higher wages, training programs and fighting to control the "temp" situation that has since overtaken our labor market. Peter was speaking out in the late 1980s and early 1990s about what these international trade agreements would do to American jobs and the middle class. I think he would make a fine addition and give some new direction to the Select Board.