Observations From Below: Duke

Over the last 9 months, I have written blogs about all of the supports in my life, except for one. He is getting older now, so I thought that I would write about him now before there is any bad news to report.

For the last 10 years my life, my extended family has included a Boxer/Labrador mix named Duke. Since he first arrived, he has strongly bonded with me and has protected me. He still doesn’t like it when my family tries to do anything with me. When I was in high school and my mom had to help me get dressed, he would jump on top of the bed and cover me, making it difficult to perform my basic morning rituals.

When people hug me, it still bothers him. He normally doesn’t bite, but he will separate me from the other person. The funny thing about that is, even if the person hugging me is someone that we both know, he is still extremely protective. The fascinating thing about his protective instinct is that we never trained him, he just decided that would be his job all on his own.

Duke and I are both survivors of adversity. He is a rescue, and we think he was abused by his previous owners. He exhibits strange behavior not typical for a Labrador. For example, they usually love the water, whereas he is even afraid of when we fill his dish and would scurry to the other side of the house. He also has a fear of common household items such as plastic grocery/trash bags and brooms, a phobia from where we don’t know stemmed.

The weirdest thing is he doesn’t like being pet on certain areas of his body that most dogs typically enjoy, mainly in the stomach and ears. I can touch him places where most other people would be advised to avoid. I used to play a game with him where I would grab the top of his snout and say, “I got your nose!”

Duke has survived his fair share of medical crises. In my first year of college, he escaped from our backyard and was hit by a truck. He nearly lost of one of legs, and cost nearly $7,000 and a bunch of hardware to repair him. That became another similarity that we share, as I also have a bunch of hardware in my legs. His leg eventually became infected and the hardware had to be removed. He also underwent two melanoma surgeries, making him a cancer survivor.

Before my newspaper column in high school helped me become a big man on campus, he was one of the few close friends I had. Every afternoon after school, I would go directly to my backyard to see him before I did anything else. One afternoon soon after we got him, all 70 pounds of Duke ran into my wheelchair and sat on me. We are very grateful that we have a picture of that day, because he only tried that once.

My dog is obviously important to me, and dogs often have a strong relationship with persons with disabilities. I thought I would use the rest of this column to go over the guidelines and laws of service animals.

The following information comes from disabilityrightsnc.org.

The first thing to know is that the only type of animal considered a service animal under Titles II and III of the ADA is a dog or a miniature horse. For them to be considered a service animal, they must be trained to perform certain tasks beneficial to the person with the disability. With very few exceptions, other than the animal’s presence contaminating a sterile environment, they cannot be excluded from public facilities.

The second most important thing to know is that service animals are not required by the ADA to be registered, nor is it necessary to show proof to an establishment that they are actually a service animal. They are also not required to wear a vest or any other special indicator, although it might help to deter unwanted distractions like petting while the dog is working.

There are two questions a business can ask about the service animal. First, is whether the animal is necessary for an individual with a disability. Second, what function has the animal been trained to perform to assist the disabled individual. A business is never allowed to ask what a certain individual’s disability consists of, but are within compliance of the ADA if they inquire about the specific duties of the individual’s service animal.

The last thing I want to say is that a person with a disability is not required to pay any extra fees to an establishment just because they have a service animal with them. Any ancillary fees incurred must be waived by the business, other than damages caused by the animal, which must be made up by the service animal’s owner.

In order to address a violation of the ADA, a formal complaint must be filed with the department’s office of Civil Rights within 180 days of the offense. The department will investigate the incident, and will try to resolve the matter between the parties, sending a letter of explanation that outlines the exact infraction. An individual can also bring forth in court their case, and depending on if they are covered under Titles II or III, it will determine whether an injunctive relief will be brought about, and/or the possibilities of the plaintiff being awarded compensatory damages or civil penalties in the matter of public cases.

Although Duke is not a service animal, I wanted to address the laws because many of my friends and colleagues have service animals. They still have problems in making the community live up to the ADA. Since I have a small soapbox, I wanted to use it to shed light on a subject that is dear to me.

That’s how Duke and I roll…..

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