Legislation would provide more rights to guide dog trainers
She strapped the almost 2-year-old Goldador into his harness Thursday afternoon and he was immediately in work mode.
As they approached a corner, Gerrity tapped a pole.
“Find your post,” she said.
A focused Kenny stopped and looked to the pole.
His reward, a few pats on the head and his fair share of “good boy.”
“He works for affection,” Gerrity said.
Gerrity has been training service dogs such as Kenny at Southeastern Guide Dogs for the past three years. A big part of that training includes getting dogs familiar with social settings.
Those public outings don’t always go smoothly, however, and have actually helped spark a bipartisan push in the Florida Legislature to increase the rights of individuals who train guide dogs.
“We have heard of places where puppy raisers are asked to leave, and guide dog users have been kicked out of restaurants when they have every right to be there,” said Jennifer Bement, public relations specialist at Southeastern Guide Dogs. “Guide dogs do have full access rights anywhere the general public can go.”
In order for a dog to be well trained, he or she needs exposure to public situations as a puppy, Bement explained.
Gerrity said she has been kicked out of restaurants and shopping malls, and has had trouble getting onto planes because people wrongfully assume she isn’t allowed to have the animal.
“It feels terrible,” Gerrity said. “It feels like they’re treating me like a second-class citizen.”
To combat discrimination of any kind against those who train service animals, House Bill 1077 is being sponsored by State Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg.