7-Year-Old Denied His Seizure-Sniffing Service Dog at School (VIDEO)

boy denied service dog

I always feel enormously unhappy when I see stories of children with service dogs being denied service somewhere. It seems like such a difficult issue, because on the one hand, you’ve got the ADA service animal requirements and basic human kindness; on the other hand, you’ve got the very real challenges of allergies and allocating resources to manage animals. Today’s news item lands right smack in that gray area where the outcome is neither pleasant nor obviously unethical: a little boy in Massachusetts is being denied the use of his seizure-sniffing Golden Retriever because his school district won’t assign any staff members to be responsible for the dog.

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Ericha Flateau says they use Paris, a service dog, to alert them to 7-year-old Austin’s seizures (which are caused by a brain malformation) before they occur. Paris has also been trained to calm Austin down when he tries to speak and becomes frustrated.

Paris is supposed to be by Austin’s side at all times, and the ADA secures this right:

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.

However, the ADA is also clear that the government can’t tell businesses or organizations to provide care for service animals. That responsibility lies with the person with the disability:

Staff are not required to provide care or food for a service animal.

So the school can’t be required to assign a teacher to take the dog outside for potty breaks or make sure she’s fed and watered. Since Austin is only 7, he’s not able to do this on his own, and his mom says she can’t pay for someone to help out:

For whatever reason, the school district will not allow any school staff to be the dog handler. I cannot afford to hire a third-party dog handler, and I also can’t afford not to go to work myself. So [Paris] has been home with him since we returned from training.

Here’s a news clip on the story:

I really feel for this mom and the child ... but I feel for the school, too. Resources are stretched so incredibly tight as it is, and I know in our school the teachers are handling WAY more than their fair share of work. Being asked to take care of a dog on top of everything else they have to manage just seems unfair, even though I would hope the dog’s needs would be minimal. And who’s going to step in to be sure other children aren’t goofing around with the dog in a way that might result in a bite or something like that? I just don’t know if there’s a good answer here, aside from a teacher stepping forward and being willing to shoulder the full responsibility for the dog until Austin is able to do so by himself.

What do you think? Should the school have figured out a way to assign someone to the dog’s care?


Image via Fox

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