Disability Assist Dogs
SPCA supports the use of appropriate companion animals in human assistance programmes provided they are trained using reward-based methods and assessed as suitable for participation in the programme and that their physical, health, and behavioural needs are met for the whole of their life.
“Disability assist dog” is a generic term for a guide, hearing, or assistance dog that is specifically trained to perform at least one task to mitigate the effects of an individual’s disability. The dog's main purpose is to improve the person’s ability to carry out daily tasks, either by simplifying daily tasks, or increasing safety while daily tasks are performed. In New Zealand, a dog can be certified a “disability assist dog” if they are certified by one of eight assistance dog organisations listed in Schedule 5 of the Dog Control Act, 1996.
Disability assist dogs positively impact the lives of individual people with a range of disabilities, including providing increased independence and improved physical health, improving overall quality of life, and decreasing stress. There is growing evidence of the positive psychosocial health and wellbeing benefits the disabled person receives. The dog’s companionship, emotional and social support, and social facilitation act to improve quality of life over and above the support that is received via the specific trained tasks the dog provides.
SPCA advocates for an amendment to the Human Rights Act 1993 to replace the words “guide dog” with “disability assist dogs”, a broader term which encompasses dogs (either trained or in training), certified by an organisation specified in the Dog Control Act 1996.
Under the Human Rights Act 1993, Section 21(1)(h)(vi) prohibited grounds of discrimination include a disability which relies on a “guide dog, wheelchair, or other remedial means”.
SPCA supports an amendment to the Act to replace “guide dog” with “disability assist dog” thereby broadening that prohibited ground of discrimination to incorporate disability assist dogs that provide assistance to people with a range of disabilities extending beyond visual.
The current wording of the Act means people with a disability may experience unfair treatment because of the support they receive from a disability assist dog, unless that disability assist dog is a guide dog. For society to be fully inclusive and value disabled people as equal participants, it is imperative that an amendment to the Human Rights Act 1993 is made. This will ensure protection for those with hearing, physical and medical impairments (in addition to those with visual impairments) who rely on the support of a disability assist dog.