Service dog owners tired of defending their rights

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SARASOTA - Allegations that a family with a service dog was asked to leave a public beach has sparked some discussion about where service dogs are allowed. More often than not, those with service dogs say they have to defend their right to have an animal they need for various medical conditions.

“When someone says to me, “you’re not allowed to have your dog here”, well, we’re covered by federal law, and it’s just a matter of giving them that information.” Susan Wilburn is visually impaired and she uses a guide dog to help her get around. “If I’m allowed to go into a public area, then the law protects me and my service dog for entering.”

But despite the federal and state laws that allows service dogs and their owners to be in public locations, representatives from Southeastern Guide Dogs in Manatee County say there are repeated incidents of them being delayed service. “Occasionally our trainers or our graduates will be asked to leave a restaurant or a shop.”

“It’s hard to deal with. The law doesn't require the service dog to have identification. In fact, it’s against that law for someone to ask a handler of a service dog for identification,” says Wilburn.

In addition, she says service dogs do not have to be in a vest or harness to be recognized. And since the animals have to help their owners in a various environments, it’s important for the animals to be familiar with every situation. “Carson has to go on the airplane with me, he has to know how to go up and down escalators and elevators, on the beach…he has to be okay with every situation that I might expose him to. And he can only become that way if we expose them as puppies through their training.”

Representatives from Southeastern Guide Dogs say it's important that the community become familiar with the laws associated with the service dogs. One rule is Florida Statute 413.