National framework needed for emotional-service animals: Rempel

OTTAWA — A Conservative MP says she would like to see national standards on the right to have emotional-service animals in public spaces after watching her husband encounter numerous barriers while travelling in Canada with his dog, Midas.

Michelle Rempel’s husband, U.S. military veteran Jeffrey Garner, has an emotional-service dog for therapeutic reasons and has official documentation from medical specialists for it.

The two travel extensively and Rempel said they have never encountered problems bringing Midas along on flights and in public spaces in the United States.

But their experiences in Canada have been much different.

They have been barred from taxis, Uber vehicles and restaurants. They’ve faced problems flying on certain airlines and they have been slapped with fees at hotels and other businesses when Midas is in tow, despite showing documentation saying the dog’s presence is necessary for medical reasons.

“Jeff gets really upset and it triggers a response that (the dog) is designed to prevent … It makes it 10 times worse,” Rempel said.

She says she’s concerned for those who may not be as versed in law and policy as she is, trying to deal with the patchwork of rules that exist on the use of therapy animals.

“This is me, who gets to get up in the House of Commons every day and is capable of taking this, and I can’t imagine someone travelling by themselves who doesn’t know what to do, and it just really upset me as well.”

Emotional-service animals are not defined by legislation in Canada and are only offered legal protections in some jurisdictions.

Several different regulatory regimes exist nationally and in each province and territory dealing generally with the use of assistive animals. But even within individual jurisdictions, a variety of laws and regulations can be in place that address service animals using different terms, definitions or qualifiers, according to research done by lawyers at Goldblatt Partners LLP.

Rempel, who has been a Calgary MP since 2011, believes a national framework is needed to ensure those whose mental health is dependent on these animals are able to travel and access public spaces with their therapy animals.

When voicing her thoughts on this issue on social media, she was met with a barrage of backlash and concerns about people who might abuse more open policies for therapy animals by taking animals on flights or to public places without being trained to deal with large, unpredictable crowds.

That’s where national standards could help, Rempel said.

“A framework that provided education would alleviate all concerns,” Rempel said, suggesting it could include minimum behaviour standards, a registry for those who have received medical referrals for therapy animals and standardized certificates that would be accepted universally, she added.

Rempel hopes to encourage the House of Commons to study the issue and develop that set of national standards — and also hopes it can happen quickly with unanimous support and avoid partisan divisions.

“Education that this is something that is valid and is something that is quite commonplace in other countries is something that we need to work on, too, and that’s where I think a study would help and I think that could be part of the framework.”

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