Service dog owners wag their finger at legislators thinking about allowing pets in restaurants 

  • Carol Holmes, president of Dog Guide Users of N.H., appears with her guide dog, Lyric, and warns of civilian dogs interfering with service dogs at the Legislative Office Building on Jan. 17, 2019. Ethan Dewitt—Monitor staff

  • Carol Holmes, president of Dog Guide Users of N.H., appears with her guide dog, Lyric, and warns of civilian dogs interfering with service dogs at the Legislative Office Building on Jan. 17, 2019. Ethan Dewitt—Monitor staff

  • Carol Holmes, president of Dog Guide Users of N.H., appears with her guide dog, Lyric, and warns of civilian dogs interfering with service dogs at the Legislative Office Building on Jan. 17, 2019. Ethan Dewitt—Monitor staff

  • Carol Holmes, president of Dog Guide Users of N.H., appears with her guide dog, Lyric, and warns of civilian dogs interfering with service dogs at the Legislative Office Building on Jan. 17, 2019. Ethan Dewitt—Monitor staff

  • Larry Ashford of Concord testifies with his guide dog, Quentin, on Jan. 17, 2019, at the Legislative Office Building. Ethan Dewitt—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/17/2019 5:47:50 PM

It was hardly 11 a.m. before the House Commerce committee had gone to the dogs.

Four of them – fluffy canines with perked ears and wide eyes – packed the front row, minding their owners’ strokes and pats with barely a stray wag of the tail.

The occasion was apt enough. The committee was walking through legislation that would allow restaurants to let in dogs from members of the public – an opportunity, the bill’s supporters said, to open up New Hampshire’s eateries to veteran support dogs, companions, and family pets.

But the furry creatures in attendance were service dogs who already enjoy the guarantee of restaurant entry. And their owners were not thrilled with the proposal.

“One of the biggest challenges for guide dogs is interference from pet dogs,” said Carol Holmes, her Golden Retriever Lyric close to her side.

To supporters of House Bill 249, the bill gives restaurant owners the choice to become canine-friendly, and opens doors to those struggling to bring non-service companion dogs. But to Holmes, the president of Dog Guide Users of New Hampshire, the proposal only opens up the disabled community to new challenges from unruly animals without proper training.

“Dogs are everywhere you go,” Holmes said. “And pet owners are not always responsible.”

For dogs and owners alike, the situation is complex. Presently, state laws allow service animals but ban all other animals in restaurants. Restaurant owners are also allowed their own “companion dog” on the premises providing they display signs drawing attention to it.

HB 249, submitted by Rep. Katherine Rogers, would expand that restaurant owner’s privilege to all visitors or patrons. The idea: to give veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder a chance to stay comforted in restaurants with their animals, and put restaurant owners in the driver’s seat.

“This bill appears to be a dog bill, but in a reality, it is a veteran’s bill,” Rogers said. And she said the current law restricts other activities; veterans that hike with dogs have found they’re not allowed entry to the Appalachian Mountain Club huts in the White Mountains, given the facilities’ technical role as restaurants.

Owners of guide dogs say they have enough to deal with already. Service dogs are expensive; the year of training for each dog to qualify for its responsibilities costs around $50,000, Holmes said.

They’re trained to attend to the needs of their owners and protect them, she added. They’re not trained to fend off attacks from other dogs.

Larry Ashford, of Concord, knows the risk through experience. A previous German shepherd guide dog he had was once attacked, giving it a fear of other dogs that complicated where Ashford could go.

Having a guide dog can require avoiding parks and walkways, and add additional stress at department stores, Ashford said.

Other guide dog owners he knows have had to decommission their dogs from service entirely after traumatic interactions, Ashford said.

To Ashford, weighing the pros and cons of the bill comes down to a simple calculus.

“There’s want and need,” he said, sitting next to his black labrador Quentin. “These people want to bring their dogs in. We need to bring out dogs in.”

Linda Vaillaincourt, who said her own German Shepherd had already saved her life twice, echoed the urgency.

“My dog doesn’t just come to be with me, she takes me where I need to go,” she said.

But some at the hearing hailed the bill as a way to allow companion dogs that aren’t counted as service dogs but are nonetheless meaningful for their owners – whether for mental health struggles or trauma. The definition of what counts as a service dog excludes those that are not explicitly trained to assist their owners, according to state statute.

Mary Kusterin of Hopkinton, who spoke in favor of the bill, said the dogs could help those with anxiety. But she said she felt the concerns of the guide dog community.

“It’s one of the situations where the people who aren’t good animal carers are ruining it for everyone else,” she said. “I would hope that most dogs don’t interact like that with service animals.”

But she said it should be decided based on the situation.

“I think that allowing the restaurant owners to make that decision themselves is helpful because they can fig ure out what level of risk they want to take on, what level of support they want to be able to provide,” she said.




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2019 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy