Legislators Look to Protect Guide Dogs and Other Service Animals

Private Member’s Bill Introduced by Sharon Blady, MLA for Kirkfield Park

Sharon Blady, the MLA for Kirkfield Park, introduced a private member’s bill in the legislature today that would protect guide dogs and other service animals such as search-and-rescue dogs. The proposed legislation, the first of its kind in Canada, would make it an offence to interfere with service animals or to allow other animals to do so without consent.

Blady said the need for such legislation came to light in 2005 when a guide dog belonging to a visually impaired woman was attacked by another dog in Winnipeg. As a result, the traumatized guide dog could no longer perform his duties, and the owner had to take the dog to New York for costly retraining.

Existing animal protection laws, including the Criminal Code, provide penalties for injuring or killing animals, but say nothing about interfering with the ability of service animals to do the work that they were trained for. Blady’s bill would fill this gap, providing fines of up to $5,000 for a first offence, and allowing judges to order the offender to pay compensation to the owner.

Blady began consultations with disabilities organizations, visually impaired individuals and law enforcement and fire/paramedic agencies on her proposal last July. “They told me that the public is largely unaware that interfering with a service animal without the owner’s consent can affect its ability to perform their duties. My hope is that this bill will generate more public awareness of the special status of these animals.”

Janet Hunt, who owes her independence to her seeing-eye dog, said “It’s hard to believe that someone would interfere with or harm a working service animal, but it happens. I’m very pleased about this proposed protection law,” said the government office worker and a member of the mayor’s Access Advisory Committee. “I hope it helps people understand the intense training these animals go through to do their jobs, and how important it is to allow them to do their jobs properly.”

The bill can also be found at http://web2.gov.mb.ca/bills/39-3/index.php.

For more information please contact Sharon Blady at 945-0932 (legislature) or 832-2318 (constituency office).