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Service Dog Owner Advocates For Rights

by Shanine Sealey

Four years ago, Crystal Shain met Tesla, a service dog that would not only make a huge difference in Shain’s mental health, but also become a best friend. Tesla came into Shain’s life when she was just an eight-week-old puppy and since then, has been through rigorous training to become a psychiatric service dog for panic disorder and generalized anxiety.

Although Tesla’s training badge was removed when she was approximately a year and a half old, training never stops and Shain is always working with Tesla and various trainers to constantly improve her skills because for Shain, Tesla isn’t just a pet, she is instead a piece of medical equipment that is relied upon heavily on to get through each day.

In mid-July, Shain was at a mental health low point and needed to seek medical help so decided to visit Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon; however, the experience did not go as Shain had hoped. During the visit to the ER, Tesla was by Shain’s side the entire time, which consisted of hours within the hospital; however, after being admitted into the Dube Centre, Shain was asked to provide a training certificate for Tesla, which was made available within the hour. Despite providing the training certificate, Shain was informed that due to COVID precautions, no dogs were permitted.

“I was told that it was a policy put in place by management and didn’t really have any further explanation. I did hear that they were not allowing therapy dogs in right now because they don’t have public access due to being pet by multiple people, which doesn’t apply to Tesla, who is a service dog that only works for me,” Shain said. Shain’s only options at this point were to stay without Tesla, or to be discharged.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Shain has had to advocate for service dogs’ rights within Saskatchewan, and likely won’t be the last.

“I had to take a school in Saskatoon to the Human Rights Commission for the same kind of issue. I talked to them directly first, which is what I always do before I make a formal complaint and they would not allow me to have her, so I went to the Human Rights Commission, and they cleared things up so I was able to attend with Tesla.”

Service dogs in Canada are regulated provincially, not nationally like the USA, so therefore each province has different regulations in place. In places such as Alberta or British Columbia, there is a government required test that is required for dogs and once certified, they are protected under the disability act; however, in Saskatchewan, there is no government recognized training course, and instead, a document within the Human Rights Code. “The Human Rights Code does give us a little bit of rights, but no one knows about it, so it can be really frustrating, and it can be very hard to advocate for yourself. It can be really intimidating,” Shain said.

The Policy on Service Animals within the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission states, “Businesses are required to accommodate for the attendance of service animals. Access to hotel accommodations, public services and facilities must be provided to persons with service animals. In most cases no evidence should be required to support the attendance of a service animal. If a service animal is a disturbance, a training certificate may be requested.” More information on the Policy on Service Animals in Saskatchewan can be found here: https://saskatchewanhumanrights.ca/education-resources/policies-guidelines/policy-on-service-animals/.

“There currently isn’t a government regulated system for training/assessing Service Dogs in Saskatchewan, unlike some other provinces. As for businesses denying access to Service Dogs in Saskatchewan, it is my understanding that, should a business deny entry to a task-trained Service Dog, the handler would need to file a complaint of some sort with the Human Rights Commission in order to have the matter addressed,” Christina Chandler, Paws Republic Centre for Pets Training Director, explained. Chandler also added that any Service Dog who is behaving in an unacceptable manner can be immediately excused from a business. This would include behavior such as aggression, barking, growling, eliminating indoors, destruction or property, and/or failing to perform commands issued by the handler.

Not only is it difficult to advocate when it comes to public access, but also when it comes to the general public. It is important for others to remember that when you see a service dog, it is working, and by distracting the dog by trying to pet it, or talking to it, you can take it’s focus away from the important job it has. When a service dog gets distracted, it can miss cues that it is trained to watch for and then not do the tasks that they are meant to do to help their owners. “The correct way to react when you see a service dog is to have absolutely no reaction. Nothing,” Shain noted.

For Shain, Tesla is the only reason that crowded spaces, such as the grocery store, is even an option. “Tesla gives me peace of mind and a sense of safety. Knowing that she is there for me makes a big difference, so to be told that when I need help, and she can’t be with me, it can be very detrimental to me. We are a team and she is medical equipment for me,” Shain stated.

Leading up to having a service dog, and over the past four years, Shain has done extensive research, and has even been invited to do presentations on service dogs in elementary schools. “This isn’t the first time that this has happened to me, so I know that it is something that others are likely experiencing as well. It is already hard enough to admit that you have a bad enough mental disability to need a psychiatric service dog, but to them be denied and rejected can be very discouraging.”

“For anyone going through similar struggles, I want to say, know your self-worth and know you deserve to have fair care – whether it is health care or otherwise – you deserve to be treated the same as others. Your disability is valid and your need for service is valid. If you are unable to advocate for yourself, there are people that will help you.”

After being discharged from the Dube Centre, Shain made many phone calls and spoke with numerous individuals about the situation, and last week, Shain was able to be re-admitted into the Dube Centre along with Tesla. “We have been reassured again that we will have zero problems regarding Tesla accompanying me and staying with me. Even though I am finally able to be re-admitted, this fight for human rights regarding service animals is FAR from over,” Shain said in a recent social media post.

For more information about Shain and Tesla, follow ‘Tesla the Service Dog’ on social media.

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