There is good news for disabled individuals in Florida who require the aid of a service animal. According to recent reports from Tampa Bay Online, guide dogs will now be allowed in most areas of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.
“Service animal” means an animal that is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The work done or tasks performed must be directly related to the individual’s disability and may include, but are not limited to, guiding an individual who is visually impaired or blind, alerting an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing, pulling a wheelchair, assisting with mobility or balance, alerting and protecting an individual who is having a seizure, retrieving objects, alerting an individual to the presence of allergens, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to an individual with a mobility disability, helping an individual with a psychiatric or neurological disability by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors, reminding an individual with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack, or doing other specific work or performing other special tasks. –Florida Statutes
For people who have come to rely on service animals, this may mean first time visits to this attraction and that is certainly big news. Reporters told the story of a selection of guide dogs being introduced to the park and most directly to a giraffe. The dogs have been well-trained and desensitized, so they aren’t going to react to the stimuli presented at the zoo in the same way that a typical pet would, which is why the Florida Statutes make it clear that “A service animal is not a pet.” These dogs, 21 in total, showcased a calm nature that comes from a very intensive training program that our beloved “regular pets” wouldn’t receive in St. Petersburg. They weren’t stressed and, as a result, they didn’t act negatively to the nearby zoo animals.
Though the zoo will undoubtedly be strict about the dogs allowed into the zoo, there is no formal licensing or certification process for guide dogs in the United States, according to Service Dog Central. There are training programs around the Saint Petersburg area that will provide a certificate of training, but these are not required. Therefore, the zoo cannot simply request a certificate that says the dog has been trained for the specific purposes of assisting the disabled customer. They can, however, request information about the training received and the types of skills that the dog performs for the disabled party.
You must understand that even in the case of guide dogs, the owner is responsible for the actions of the animal in their care. Should the dog become stressed as a result of the animals featured in the zoo, it could act in a manner that is not typical. An anxiety-ridden dog may act by instinct, and that can mean taking an aggressive, protective stance against perceived threats. If the dog were to harm another zoo visitor, the owner could definitely be held liable.
This is a good move to ensure the very best training for service animals to enable them to become fully capable of performing their assigned tasks without becoming overly stressed in unusual settings. If you are on the receiving end of a dog attack, then you have every right to seek the assistance of a personal injury attorney, even if the animal was serving as a guide for a disabled individual.