Bill brings clarity to assistance dog issue

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Matilda, a Canine Companions for Independence facility dog, has joined the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) team Oct. 25, 2018. Photo by Amy Wallot

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – “A bill to prevent “squirrely” use of comfort animals was approved Wednesday by the state Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Lebanon Republican, said he drafted the legislation after hearing of a person who brought a squirrel to an emergency room as an emotional support animal.

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“We have to be very, very cautious,” said the retired grocer, who recounted constituents’ concerns about the number of dogs they now see in grocery stores and restaurants. “

His measure, SB 279, would clarify where and when assistance dogs are allowed on premises. It would permit an establishment to inquire about the assistance dog and refuse admittance if it jeopardizes the health and safety of others. It would also make the handler liable for damage caused by the animal.

Another provision would make it violation if a person misrepresents a dog as an assistance dog by placing a harness, collar, vest or sign on the animal. A violation of this section would be punishable by up to a $1,000 fine.

The third section would raise the fine for various actions violating the rights of a person with an assistance dog from $250 to $500.

And finally, the measure defines an assistance dog as one that has been trained to work, and provide assistance or perform tasks.

Committee Chair Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, noted legitimate assistance dogs have real therapeutic value. He said these types of animals make life better for people with disabilities but he understood abuses occur.

It now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.