Making Light of Service Animals Hurts People Who Really Need Accommodations

Mayor Eisenberger needs to lead in a way in which he considers how his actions affect Hamiltonians, not just his own interests.

By Carolyn Boutin
Published January 14, 2020

Lyndsay, a former student of mine, was struggling to get the marks she deserved on math tests. Her classwork was great and she completed her homework each night. However, she needed extra time and a quieter environment. So I asked, "Why don't you just go down to the resource room?"

She answered, "Because, if I go, a bunch of boys will ask to go and they'll get mad and ask why does she get to go?"

That would be a hard situation for any 13-year-old child. For a child with a learning issue, it feels incredibly unfair. As a special education tutor, I cannot even guess how many times a child has cried during a session while asking me, "why can't I learn like everyone else?"

Things their classmates seem to understand immediately can feel like monumental tasks. My students will have to work harder than their peers to achieve the same results as the other children in the class.

In most cases within Ontario, children who are performing several years behind their class are still placed in their age-appropriate grade. This inclusive approach is built upon these students receiving an individual education plan, which provides accommodations (and in some cases modifications) in the way the curriculum is instructed, the environment in which the child learns, and how they are assessed.

Accommodations can allow a child to succeed in the classroom and in life. There are two obstacles for a child to receive an accommodation. The first is staffing and funding issues, which I will address in another piece.

The second, and more relevant issue, is that students will turn down accommodations to avoid standing out. It is common that teachers will struggle to explain why one child gets an accommodation without disclosing private information about a child's diagnosis. This becomes especially true in the intermediate grades (4-9) when children are figuring themselves out socially.

Unfortunately, the issue of what is a real and fair accommodation has been brought forth by our own mayor, Fred Eisenberger.

Since last Summer, Mayor Eisenberger has sought to keep his Labradoodle, Dash, at City Hall with him despite criticism and even some legal issues. There was even a human rights complaint made against the City because of Dash's presence. Councillors have been pushed into responding to the issue with the creation of a "no pet" bylaw that is still in development.

Despite all of this feedback and pressure to keep his pet at home where he belongs, the Mayor is still looking for a possible loophole to keep his pet at work with him. After being informed that Dash could not be considered a service animal, the Mayor suggested, after acknowledging he did not have a medical issue, "I believe the terminology is more appropriately therapy or emotional support (animal)."

This insistence that he should have a dog despite clearly stating he does not need one shows a disrespect for people with real disabilities. He is demanding an accommodation that he has no need to receive.

In doing so, the Mayor is almost mocking the concept of accommodations (which a true therapy or service dog would be). This is the exact same as those 13-year-old boys causing a fuss because Lyndsay is going to the resource room.

By delegitimizing the use of a service dog, he makes it more difficult for all Hamiltonians who genuinely have conditions that are improved or mitigated by the use of a trained therapy dog (in hospital/care settings) or a registered service dog to use their dog in the workplace.

In fact, after being informed that Dash couldn't be a therapy dog, he pouted, stating that Dash, a dog, would be "very disappointed" and that Dash is "wounded and harmed by the treatment he's getting but remains hopeful." Hamiltonians who use service dogs do not want them, they need them.

Could you imagine how a child who uses a real service dog, perhaps for diabetes or epilepsy, would feel if the teacher in the class wanted to bring their pet to class? Being in a position of power and downplaying the seriousness and importance of a service animal would make that child's journey more difficult.

That is what Fred Eisenberger has done, as a leader, to any Hamiltonian who relies on a service dog. He has made a mockery of it.

Mayor Eisenberger needs to lead in a way in which he considers how his actions affect Hamiltonians, not just his own interests. He can do his job to the best of his ability without Dash. He needs to send the message that service dogs are used for disabilities, not pets, and allow Hamiltonians to live and work successfully.

Carolyn Boutin BA BED OCT is the Founder and Head Tutor, Carolyn Boutin Tutoring.


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