Region reviews rules for service dogs

Regional government is looking at changing its by-law governing the use of dogs that assist people with disabilities.

The review has been prompted by the case of Teresa Bowden. It's unlike any they've seen before.

Teresa Bowden's dog Smokey is not only her best friend, but is also her security blanket.

"Smokey helps me deal with fears outside my home. People scare me," Bowden explains.

She suffers from agoraphobia, which is the fear of public places. She takes Smokey everywhere. That was until last week, when she wasn't allowed to board an OC Transpo bus because of a regional by-law.

Bowden was told the by-law only allows for seeing-eye dogs and hearing dogs on the transit system. That means, "No smoky, no epileptic seizure dogs, no wheelchair or paraplegic dogs, no anxiety dogs, no service dogs allowed on the buses," Teresa says with her hand on Smokey.

The region and OC Transpo are now reviewing the by-law and may make an exemption for service dogs.

Al Loney is chair of the transit commission. He says there's a safety issue here.

Because service dogs tend to be large, the region wants "to make sure the dog is safe for other passengers on busses as well," says Loney. "So we need to have a mechanism for that. And it's my understanding there's no certificate like that for the guide dogs for the blind and deaf."

The region promises to make the issue of service dogs a high priority.

It also promises to let Teresa and Smokey know within the week whether or not the by-law will be changed.