Alberta Committee for Citizens with Disabilities (ACCD) member Larry Pempeit first met Charlie, his service dog, during the second week of December 2007. Since that time, Larry says his life has changed “big time.” Larry enjoys getting out of the house daily, “even in the winter,” and feels he lives a fuller life because of the increased mobility Charlie grants him. When asked how his relationship with Charlie has grown, he replies “she is the whole package deal, a really great friend.”
ACCD believes in the power of education and works to increase the public’s understanding of the circumstance surrounding the lives of people with disabilities. With this philosophy in mind, Larry gives the following advice about how to respond when encountering a service dog at work: “Guide dogs and service dogs are trained to assist individuals with all kinds of disabilities. Before you or your children pet a service dog, you need to ask the owner if it is okay. Remember, the dog is working and shouldn’t be distracted from its duties.”
As well as working with the public, ACCD monitors government and community programs and services with the intent of educating decision-makers about the circumstances of people with disabilities. So, when the provincial government was reviewing service dog legislation in 2006 and 2007, ACCD was happy to meet with MLA Rob Lougheed to provide input. Now, the Alberta Government is developing the policies and procedures that will accompany the Act. These guidelines will “help to ensure that Albertans who use service dogs have access to public areas without discrimination, and will increase awareness about service dogs and issues faced by people with disabilities” (Government of Alberta Seniors and Community Supports, www.seniors.gov.ab.ca). If you have questions about service dog etiquette, please contact ACCD.