Many people are aware of Guide Dogs or Seeing Eye Dogs who assist people who are blind or have low vision. Did you know that there are other assistance animals that help people with disabilities, including those who are Deaf or hard of hearing, on the Autism Spectrum or have a physical disability?
Assistance animals accompany their owners into restaurants, fast food places, retail outlets, hotels motels, supermarkets, hospitals, taxis, buses, trams, trains and all other public areas. The only places assistance animals are not allowed are zoos, aquariums, sterile environments, food preparation areas and quarantine areas.
Although many Victorians are generous in providing open access to people accompanied by their assistance animal, not everyone is aware of their legal obligation.
Assistance Animals are not pets or a 'companion' dog.
The rights of a person accompanied by an assistance animal are covered under the Domestic Animals Act 1994 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. Both these acts override the Food Act 1984 which prohibits dogs from entering food premises.
Compliance with the laws will ensure that owners and managers of public facilities will avoid prosecution and/or embarrassment resulting from refusing access to assistance animals.
These Acts cover assistance animals, which have been trained (or are in the process of being trained) by accredited organisations under Assistance Dogs International. Assistance Animals must undergo regular Public Access Test (PAT) to assess the Assistance Animal’s suitability within public spaces.
Accredited assistance animals include:
- Guide Dogs and Seeing Eye Dogs
- Lions Hearing Dogs
- Autism Assistance Dogs
- Service Dogs - for those with a physical disability or post-traumatic stress disorder
Assistance animals should be wearing a harness, identification lead or a vest/coat identifying them as working animals and the owners should be carrying a photographic identity badge or card as proof of accredited status, which they must take with them in public.
Remember: never pat an assistance animal or offer it food while it is in harness or coat. It is a working animal under the control of its owner and offering food to these animals will distract them from their duties.