Friday, May 7, 2010

Denver Officials Can't Keep Their Baseless Claims Straight!

Denver and Aurora, Colorado are both facing federal class action lawsuits over their Pit Bull ban. They are being sued by three individuals who claim the Pit Bull ban, which does not offer exemptions for service animals apparently, are in violation of federal law. I wrote about this previously.

The Denver Daily News just covered the story. It's not new, but there is some startling information in it.

"But when Plitz’s sister called Denver animal control, she says she was told by division director Doug Kelley that the dogs would only qualify as service animals if Plitz were “blind or deaf.”"
Is Mr. Kelley telling people in wheelchairs they don't qualify for service animals b/c they aren't deaf or blind? Or people with epilepsy who have signal dogs? Or people with severe anxiety disorders? Does Mr. Kelley get to be the one to decide who is or is not "disabled" enough to qualify for a service dog? I think not.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is rather vague. It does not specify a person needs to be blind or deaf. This confusion is acceptable with your average person but not so with the director of your animal control agency. Doug Kelley should know better.
"But he notes that there is no national program or database of service dog certification and the open-ended language of the ADA makes it difficult for local agencies to determine if a service animal is legitimate under federal law."
Fair enough, Mr. Kelley. That's when you err on the side of caution. If you are unsure about whether the ADA covers people with chemically-induced panic attacks or folks in wheelchairs, then avoid lawsuits by being all inclusive. If you want to be the precedent setting city that gets federal law changed that only blind and deaf people get to have service dogs, fine Just don't hide behind the excuse that "oh, the language is vague, so we're just going to make it up as we go along." 
"“We need to see some type of documentation that this is a bona fide service animal,” he says. This would be in the form of a doctor’s letter stating the patient would benefit from a service animal or papers showing that a particular dog was trained specifically to help with their owner’s disability. (In a phone call to Denver animal control separate from Face the State’s interview with Kelley, a staff member explained to this reporter that the division “does not accept letters from doctors saying you need a service animal. We only take documents from certain training agencies.” The staff member was unable to say which agencies, just that “we know them when we see them.”)"

Wrong, Mr. Kelley. Federal law does not require anyone to show their dog's documentation. The issue here is not whether requiring documentation is right or wrong. The issue is that Mr. Kelley is making a claim that is both wrong and illegal. 

It would be nice too if Mr. Kelley could communicate his logic to the rest of his staff. Kelley claims a doctor's note is all that is needed. Yet one of his staff members is saying no, that's not true, a person has to have documentation from certain training agencies. And there isn't any particular protocol - the staff person just "knows them when they see them." Both are wrong, of course. No one needs a doctor's note or documentation. And until the laws are changed to require such things, Mr. Kelley and anonymous staff person should just keep their mouths shut.

This isn't just about breedism. It's about discrimination and ableism. We live in an able-centric society. Many of us do not understand what it means to have panic attacks or physical "disabilities" or severe anxiety disorders that literally stop us from functioning. We don't understand what it means to be capable of functioning outside of our comfort zone. If a dog can help with that, help make living enjoyable and tolerable, then it should not matter what that dog looks like. I'm hoping the courts agree with that logic than with Denver and Aurora's discriminatory one.


Anonymous said...

Kelley is wrong wrong wrong.. at least he would be wrong if he were running a business. I ASSUME the court will rule that governments can't violate the ADA.
I wonder if he's getting his direction/advice on ADA from pit bull hater Kory Nelson, who's an assistant city attorney.

Ashley (the mom), Dixie (the Catahoula) and sometimes Lola (the Pit Bull) said...

I am amazed that Denver is so willing to take disability rights back decades. I'm not blind or deaf, the only visible sign of my disability if that I'm in a wheelchair (which I just started having to use in the past few weeks). It is so upsetting that full able city officials are more concerned with uphold a discriminatory ban than assisting those with disabilities live a more independent life.
Not only did Denver violate federal law (which they ARE subject to) but they also violated Colorado law by denying a disabled person one of their rights.