Friday, January 2, 2009

4. Do I Need to Certify my Dog in BC and Canada?

Do I Need to Certify my Dog in BC and Canada?
If you are only going to use your dog at home, and take it only to places that any pet dog can go, the answer is no. If you need to take your dog in public places where pet dogs are not allowed, yes in some provinces.

At Home
In some circumstances where your work environment is suitable and safe, the employer and other employees are okay with it, you may also not need to be certified to take your assistance dog to work with you. Some places of work welcome dogs generally, and others may be open to your assistance dog if it is proposed to them. If there is a dog or pet policy in writing, get a copy of it. Otherwise, we suggest asking for permission in writing to protect yourself and your dog. Of course, it is your responsibility to ensure that your dog is well-behaved and welcomed in the place of work.

In Public Places
If you are planning on having your dog assist you in public places such as restaurants, stores, and on public transportation etc, the answer varies. Many people have heard that you (and your assistance dog) have rights under the Disabilities Act. That Act applies in the United States, not Canada.

While Canada does have some laws that protect people with disabilities, they are not clear and open to interpretation. Each province also has its own laws about this but they are not consistent between provinces and three state the use of a “certified” dog. British Columbia and Alberta require service dogs to be certified by the province.

Unfortunately there have been lawsuits around accessibility issues with service dogs and it is up to the person with the assistance dog to prove they are in the right. Have a look at the web links under Laws in BC and Canada on the right bar of the blog to see the laws we have found. If you know of others, please let us know!

Certifying Your Dog
In order to make it as easy as possible for public access for your dog in BC, it is best if you have your dog certified. The Nanaimo region has a pretty good reputation generally but even then, your access may be challenged due to people know knowing or understanding the laws or simply not liking dogs.

If you plan on travelling, some countries also require certification for your dog to ride on public transportation with you and have different documentation of certification required. Do your research before you go. When coming to British Columbia for a vacation, the government requires that your dog be certified by an ADI accredited organization or you can have your dog tested and certified while you are here. This would be a good choice if you are planning to come for a longer period. If you are coming for a short period, know that the transportation providers (airlines, regional transit) are generally very accommodating for uncertified dogs. They each have their own guidelines though so check them before you come.

What Does That Process Look Like?
Before you apply to the Solicitor General of BC for approval to use your dog as an Assistance dog, you will need to collect proof of your dog’s training and use.

Any documentation you can provide is helps the Province of BC (certifying body) to evaluate your dog as a service dog such as:
*Proof of the shots and vaccinations, etc. that are required to keep the dog in good health.
*Canine Good Neighbor Certificate
*Public Access Test completed and passed
*A prescription for a service/assistance dog from your doctor
*A list of the tasks (there should be at least 3 that specifically address your disability in public places)
*Documentation of the amount of time in specific training your dog has had for each task. (Keeping a journal that you can summarize is a key point)
*Outside or supervised training that has been done  A written letter documenting what training they have overseen and your success rate as a team. Make sure to provide the name of the training company you worked with.
*Employer’s letter of how your dog operates in your workplace (if your dog has been allowed to work with you).
*Letters from friends and family documenting the past dog’s behavior in their homes, in public etc.
*A concise letter detailing the difference your service dog makes in your life.
*Other documentation that may support your application.

The government will then refer you to a person who is authorized to test your dog and submit the results to them. Their goal is to have testers in several different regions of the province.

Here is a link to the Solicitor General's office with information about Guide Animal Certification.

How Long Does it Take to get a Dog Ready for Certification?
It depends. Some dogs started as puppies and trained professionally can be ready by 18 months to 2 years. Dogs trained by owners usually ale much longer as they have lives to lead and they are not professional trainers who are training every day. How old the dog is and how much previous training ti has had before you start also affects the duration. It depends on the dog and how willing and interested s/he is to learn, how dedicated you are as a trainer, how good your training skills are, your specific tasks and many other factors.
Remember that not all dogs that start training will be suitable in the end to be certified to assist you in public places. Be prepared to remove your dog from training and find another. Plan what will happen to the dog. Will you rehome him? Will you keep him?

Does my Service Dog in Training (SDIT) (puppy or adult dog) Have the Same Access Rights as a Certified Dog?
In B.C., it depends.
Yes, IF the dog has been provided by a program such as PADS or BC Guide Dogs.  That is covered in the new laws (Effective Jan 18, 2016). Such dogs WILL be protected, are exempt from rental agreements and handlers will not be required to pay pet deposits on rentals or cleaning fees at motels and hotels.

Owner-trained dogs are NOT given the same access. This will affect your ability to have a SDit if you are in a rental situation or stay at hotels and motels. This means if the rental contract you signed does not permit pets landlords can ask you to remove and/or evict you for having a service dog in training and you will still need to pay pet deposits and cleaning fees etc on rentals and hotels/motels.

For training purposes for Owner-trained dogs, it is a good idea to talk with the manager of most businesses and get their permission if you will be training regularly at their business or facility. The key thing is to make sure your dog is ready for it and that he is on leash and under control. If they decline access, be polite and leave. Look around your city for other businesses that will meet your training needs.

Much of having an assistance dog is about taking the time to educate the public about the laws. This is one of the 40 tests you will be required to do for public access: can you calmly handle situations where your dog's access is challenged. It is going to happen as the laws are not well-known.

Having your service dog in training identified with a training vest is one way to show you are serious about training, but is not required by law. The only recognized piece of ID is the BC certification card issued by the Ministry of Justice. Some facilities and businesses will not want to allow your dog access due to public health and safety regulations. If your SDit is owner-trained, then that is their legal right. Know what your rights and limitations are and how you will deal with situations when you are challenged.

Sadly, a few dog owners of pet dogs abuse access priviledges by claiming their dog is a Sevice Dog in Training (SDit) when it is not. This makes access more challenging for legitimate SDits and certified service dogs due to the conflict they create.

What Identification Does my Dog Need Once s/he is certified?
Once your dog is certified, s/he needs to be identified as a service or assistance dog with a collar tag that is issued by the BC government. Anyone wanting to bar you from an establishment can only ask if your dog is a certified service dog and to ask to see that collar tag. Make sure you can produce it at all times in public. If the dog is not wearing it or you do not have it, the establishment may choose to prevent access. They can also ask for the certification number from the tag and call to verify that your dog is registered with the province. If you or your dog create a disturbance, they can ask for your dog's tag number and make a complaint to the Ministry of Justice.

If the dog is not certified, and you claim it is, that is fraudulent representation and you can be subject up to a $3000 fine. If the RCMP or local police are called to escort you out and you do not have the certification tag, the establishment may wish to have you charged for fraud for claiming your dog is a certified service dog when it is not under the the act.  They have every right to do so. The RCMP may also press charges even if the establishment chooses not to.