Canadian Man Sues Over His Service "Dog"

Canadian Man Sues Over His Service "Dog"

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

Note: This column originally appeared as a blog post. However, the story deserved to be shared on a larger scale, so I deleted the old version, expanded this one to 750+ words, and sent it out to my regular syndication network.

Believe it or not, there's a controversy brewing within the blindness community about service dogs (also called Leader Dogs, Guide Dogs, Seeing Eye Dogs, and Pilot Dogs — named after the school where they're trained). One organization, the American Council of the Blind, loves them. They believe service dogs are a valuable help to people who are blind or visually impaired.

The National Federation of the Blind, on the other hand, doesn't approve of them. They believe blind people should be totally independent and not need any help from anyone, including dogs.

However, both organizations agree that service dogs need to be rather large, solid, and smart dogs able to obey commands. So most tend to be German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, or Labradors.

Needless to say, chihuahuas don't make good service dogs.

Unless you're Alex Allarie of Ontario, Canada.

In a story on the CBC News website, Allarie has filed a suit against the former owners of the Granary Natural Foods because he says they discriminated against him and his disability, by not allowing his service dog in the store.

His service dog is a chihuahua.

While I'm not entirely convinced a chihuahua is a real dog to begin with, I'm even less convinced it's a real service dog.

Before anyone sends me nasty emails about how I'm the worst person in the world, I DO recognize that a chihuahua does fit into the dog category of animal classification. I'm just not a fan of them. My best friend in high school had one, and it was the most obnoxious, turdly dog I had ever seen. The thing constantly barked and vibrated at the slightest provocation.

In August 2008, Allarie was in the Granary Natural Foods in Carleton Place, Ontario, with his dog, Dee-o-Gee (D-O-G, get it?) He says the owners barred his dog from entering, which meant he couldn't enter either.

Allarie said the dog must accompany him everywhere so he can cope with his anxiety and depression, which is considered a psychiatric disability.

"Most people just don't understand because of his size, and I'm very aware of it," Allarie told the CBC.

Still, one man's. . . "dog" is another man's service animal.

Joanne Moss, president of the Canadian Foundation for Animal Assisted Support Services, says there are no official guidelines about what constitutes a service animal for people with psychiatric disabilities. Apparently, all anyone needs is a note from a doctor, and they're all set.

"To whom it may concern: I have determined that this cute and playful kitten is a necessary service animal for my patient. Signed, Erik's doctor."

However, Keith and Leslie Rouble, then-owners of the Granary said the dog wasn't the problem. (They have since sold the store, just to "get away from this man.")

"We never mentioned the dog at all," Leslie Rouble said. "It was his vulgar, violent, assaultive behavior."

What kind of service animal does someone need for that? Maybe a snapping turtle?

The Roubles say this isn't the first time they've dealt with Allarie and Dee-o-Gee. Back in 2006, they had another run-in, when Allarie brought Dee-o-Gee in on a retractable leash, and allowed him to sniff food items. They say the dog wasn't marked, and wasn't wearing a service animal harness or service coat.

"We don't allow anybody else in our store with dogs to hold on to them while they serve up their spices or to let them sniff around the food," Leslie Rouble said. "Other places, restaurants, don't allow other people to hold their dogs at the table while they're eating or to bring them in unless they're properly identified."

I think a service dog should perform an actual service. Cheering someone up, while very important to someone with anxiety and depression, does not constitute a service as much as it does therapy.

A real service dog has been trained on certain rules and dog etiquette, like not barking at other dogs or sniffing around the floor, and not quivering like Jell-O in an earthquake or peeing when there are loud noises.

While this seems like a matter of he barked-she barked, I have to side with the Roubles on this one. I can't accept that a chihuahua is a useful dog to have if you have anxiety. If anything, the chihuahuas I have known have heightened anxiety, not reduced it. And if Allarie can't prove the discrimination, then he doesn't have a leg to stand on.

In which case, he'll need a bigger dog.

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