Judi Bayly’s service dog, Kira, goes everywhere her owner goes. She has to — the calm Irish setter is crucial to the well-being and freedom of Bayly, who has multiple sclerosis and diabetes.
Kira has been on Caribbean cruises, shopping trips to WalMart, to lunches out at restaurants, to appointments at medical offices and many other places. She is trained to pay attention to small signs that indicate Bayly’s blood sugar levels are going out of control, and also to nudge open doors and help her owner navigate tricky, small spaces, including public restrooms.
“Without having Kira to get around, I don’t,” said Bayly, who is living in Hampden right now. “I would just have to stay home.”
That’s why Bayly, 62, gets her hackles up when she hears of people abusing the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law that allows trained service dogs to accompany disabled people in all areas members of the public can go.
“To be in a store or a business where somebody brings a pet dog that has not been trained for public access, it causes a disruption for the working dog,” she said. “I have literally had a dog jump out of a shopping cart, run five aisles over and bite my dog. My dog got bitten by a fake service dog.”
Bayly and other disability rights advocates would like more people to better understand the law, which makes it a federal crime to both use a fake service animal and to discriminate against a disabled person who is using a real one. More information would help smooth relationships between disabled people and business owners, according to Kathy Hecht of Searsport, a University of Maine at Machias instructor who teaches service dog training and uses a service dog herself.
“As somebody using a service dog, you do have rights protected under the law, but you also have huge responsibilities,” Hecht said. “A lot of people say, ‘I have a disability and therefore you have to put up with my dog.’ But nobody has to put up with a dog that is causing problems.”