Saturday 18 December 2021

Assistance Dogs 101: When an Assistance dog is refused entry

As previously mentioned, Assistance Dogs have certain public access rights under the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act 2009 in Queensland and under similar Acts in other states and territories of Australia.

There are two situations in which an Assistance Dog can be refused complete entry to a place - they cannot under any circumstance enter a commercial kitchen, think dog hair in food being very unpleasant. Assistance dogs also cannot enter sterile areas, such as operating theatres in a hospital or quarantine areas where animals may be housed. These reasons make complete sense.

On one of our first public outings with Henry to a local attraction, Henry was refused entry. Now I'm not going to name this attraction, as I believe that all places should be given a second chance, and if you read to the end of this post, you'll see why!

Upon a further very heated discussion with the manager of this attraction, I discovered that all assistance dogs are refused entry on the basis that assistance dogs are a biosecurity risk. According to the attraction, they were following the Queensland biosecurity legislation, however there is absolutely nothing in either the Queensland or Federal biosecurity legislation in regards to denying access to Assistance Dogs on a biosecurity risk.

I was also told that all service dogs are refused entry because service dogs are unpredictable and that the farm animals on the premise would react badly to seeing an assistance dog.

I politely informed the staff member that if a service dog is unpredictable then it shouldn't be a service dog and it's certification can be revoked. I also enquired that if the farm animals would react badly to an extremely well behaved service dog, how would the animals react to a screaming child, which there were a lot of just in the car park of the attraction.

I challenged the attraction and informed them that under Queensland's anti-discrimination laws, they can't refuse entry because it is discrimination towards both L and Henry.

Now this was the first time (and has been the only place in the seven months since Henry has been with our family,) that Henry had been refused entry. We have been asked for Henry's certification, which all attractions are entitled to request to view. So I decided to take this attractions stance on refusing entry to service dogs further, as it restricts and excludes a certain sector of our community to visiting their premise.

An assistance dog is a necessary aid that allows a person with a disability to actively engage in their community. You wouldn't expect someone who requires a walking stick or a wheel chair to leave them at the door, the same goes for an assistance dog.

After returning home with Henry, I did my own research - the biosecurity legislation that the attraction was referring to, only relates to quarantine areas, which the attraction wasn't. And if it is a quarantine area, access is limited to the general public and signs must be posted.

I also contacted the executive director of Australian Zoos and Aquariums Association who advised me that while an attraction is well within their rights to restrict access to certain parts of their premise (for example where the public can physically touch an animal,) there is no section within the biosecurity act that allows the complete refusal of an assistance dog. The executive director also advised me that some zoos and aquariums did require individuals with assistance dogs to provide their attraction with a few days notice (often 72 hours) so that accommodations could be made for the service dog. We saw this first hand when we visited Australia Zoo - by the way they were absolutely brilliant in accommodating us and Henry on our visit.

After a phone call to Smart Pups, the refusal of service dogs by this attraction was taken further to Guide, Hearing Assistance Dogs Queensland, but the attraction still refused to budge on their decision. So the refusal was taken higher all the way to the Department of Communities and Disabilities.

Jump forward a few months and I again checked the attractions website (I'd been doing this every few weeks just out of curiosity,) and low and behold a BIG positive change had been made. I then received an email from the Department of Communities and Disabilities to advise me that the attraction had changed their stance, but only after communication had gone back and forth between the Department and the attraction several times.

I was initially asked by the Department, what outcome I had wanted from my complaint about the refusal of Henry. All I wanted was for the attraction to change their stance so that all members of our community could have access to their attraction.

So to find out that they had seen the error of their initial decision and had completely reversed their decision, was absolutely brilliant. It also showed that making a little noise can make a difference, no matter how big or little the person is. The change may have taken a complaint to the Department of Communities and Disabilities, but a change was made.

The change was definitely a win on our behalf for those individuals who require an assistance dog to make access to their community easier.

It also showed to never mess with an additional needs family!

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