Joint Committee on Health and Children Meeting 19 th November Opening Statement by Ms Jennifer Dowler, CEO Irish Dogs for the Disabled

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1 Joint Committee on Health and Children Meeting 19 th November 2015 Opening Statement by Ms Jennifer Dowler, CEO Irish Dogs for the Disabled 1.1 Origin of Irish Assistance Dogs Umbrella Group This umbrella group, with the working title of Irish Assistance Dogs derives from the Service Dogs of Ireland Seminar which took place last September This was attended by and presented to by Senator Colm Burke and David Stanton TD and opened by Minister Sean Sherlock. Through these events all the Charities in this sector have met and networked. All, are totally reliant on the dedicated work of their volunteers. Irish Assistance Dogs is a coalition of assistance dog organisations that encourages the exchange of ideas and best practice amongst its members, raises awareness amongst the general public and promotes behavioural and legislative changes to ensure the freedom, independence and rights of its clients. It was set up in 2014 as regulation was needed in the sector to protect the vulnerable adults and children within the sector we work in. The Charities concerned in this umbrella group are listed alphabetically as:- 1. Autism Assistance Dogs of Ireland 2. Irish Dogs for the Disabled. 3. Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind which also runs an Assistance Dog Programme. 4. My Canine Companion This group also consists of Dr. Louise Burgoyne and her team at the University College Cork as a Research partner and the Irish Kennel Club as a Strategy partner There is a need for more legislation, regulation and accreditation throughout this sector. There are hundreds of families who have benefited from the work of the charities however the Charity waiting lists have all closed due to the pressures of fundraising and the waiting times involved have steadily increased in some cases to up to 5 years. There are between families on the combined waiting lists of the above charities. The charities provide assistance and guide dogs for those who suffer from Aspergers Syndrome, Autism, Blindness, Sight Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Hearing Impairments, a range of genetic Syndromes and Wheelchair users. The Charities are presently working on a

2 new study with UCC following on from Professor Perry s and Dr Burgoyne s study last year. This new research will be presented to the Oireachtas Committee. Therefore, we are obliged to address the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. We would be obliged to discuss some of the matters such as those listed below, the goals and needs are three fold, a) the needs of the Partnership, the child or adult who requires the assistant dog b) the needs of the Charity c) the needs of the sectors engaging with the above, e.g. the school, the shopping centre, the transport sectorbus/taxi/airport, the accommodation sector-hotel, B&B, hostel, the food & retail industry etc. d) 1.2 Introduction to the charities Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind is a national charity founded in 1976, dedicated to helping persons who are blind or vision impaired and families of children with autism to achieve improved mobility and independence. Dogs for the Disabled Dogs for the Disabled is a registered charity founded in 2007 to improve the lives of children and adults living with physical disabilities in Ireland. Dogs are trained to help with simple everyday tasks such as opening/closing doors, picking up dropped items, emptying the washing machine, sending for help or even helping a child with severe walking difficulties to walk with greater ease and balance plus much more to enable our clients to live life with greater independence. Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland is a national charity founded in 2010 to provide highly trained assistance dogs for children with autism and their families. Their dogs are specially trained to provide safety, independence and companionship to children who would otherwise live in a very isolated world. These dogs help to transform the lives of children and their families.

3 My Canine Companion My Canine Companion is a national charity founded on the 16th June 2011 by Cliona O Rourke. Their main purpose is to provide highly trained and skilled service dogs to people with autism. Irish Kennel Club The Irish Kennel Club promotes the responsible ownership and breeding of dogs throughout Ireland through education, registration, training and support schemes and events. 1.3 Umbrella Group Goals 1. Needs of those with a Disability- Equality Issues 2. Legislation- Past Definitions need to be revised 3. Legislation around definition, accreditation, training, sourcing, rogue operators 4. Endeavour to seek state support for guide/assistance/service dogs across disabilities. 5. Raise the profile of Assistance & Service Dogs nationally. 6. Cut waiting lists and make the dogs more available. 7. Reduce duplication of services in the sector. 8. Look at Accreditation of the Sector and models of same. 9. Encourage future study in the area through the results of the surveys and workshops. 10. Highlight rogue operators. This has become a major problem in this country. 11. Funding, Tax Issues, Allowances 12. Irish Studies, International Studies 1.4 Standards, ethics & the protecting vulnerable clients All of the above groups have agreed to the standards set down by Assistance Dogs International and are fully accredited or in the process of being fully accredited. The accreditation process is very thorough and completely independent (as it is carried out by assessors from other countries) and covers the following areas: 1. Standards of Administration 2. Standards for Clients 3. Standards for the Training of Dogs 4. Standards for the Health and Welfare of Dogs 5. Standards for Staff and Volunteers 6. Standards for Facilities 7. Standards for Correctional Facility / Prison Programs 8. Standard for Certification of Owner / Private Trainer Trained Teams

4 1.5 History The Guide Dogs Story started in earnest internationally 100 years ago with the return of injured soldiers, during the Great War Official organisations began establishing themselves in the US in the 1970s. Another war the Vietnam War saw the rise of assistance Dogs for wheelchair users and other veterans returning from the war hoping for independent living. In Ireland the Irish Guide Dogs for Blind started in In 2005 Irish Guide Dogs Assistance Dog programme for children on the Autism Spectrum was the First of its kind in Europe. Over the last 7 years a number of other Charities have established themselves in the Canine Charity Field including Irish Dogs For the Disabled, Autism Assistance Dogs of Ireland and My Canine Companion. 1.6 Present Position However Ireland has slipped from this premier spot, from leading the field to trailing our neighbours with the amount of disabilities covered, to the extension to medical detection dogs and the most pressing problem of huge waiting lists across all the assistance dog charities. Now there is also the major problem highlighted in the media in recent weeks of operators who are outside the Charity sector. The families here are preyed upon as their basic need to try to improve their children s quality of life is met with a promise of a magic bullet that will never occur with the Charitable Sector. Due to the shortage of assistance dogs in Ireland, families have to employ private trainers which can cost up to 10,000 for six weeks training. The families can then be left in limbo if the dog fails or worse misbehaves, as there is little or no fall back but civil contract law, the family could be exposed to litigation as Pet Insurance will not cover them in normally training. There have been major problems in the US and the UK with so called assistance dogs trained by non qualified personnel, wearing jackets purchased online. 1.7 Definition Assistance Dogs International (ADI; 2014) defines three types of assistance dogs: 1) guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired, 2) hearing dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing, and 3) service dogs for people with disabilities other than those related to vision or hearing. The category of service dogs broadens to include dogs trained to assist people who have mobility or balance challenges, alert or respond to medical issues such as diabetes and seizures, and support people with psychiatric disabilities and autism 1.8 Legislation When you compare our situation to the UK where they updated all their legislation in 2010 and even there they can see already this legislation is out of date. Australia updated its legislation in 2009 and again talk has begun to update their legislation. The USA did so in the early 2000 s. Irelands relies on the Equality Act 2004 & Welfare Act 2013 and the Dogs Act 1986, where the definitions are totally inadequate and the language is non-specific. The definitions for any such new legislation might need to look to include all the advances of the last few years including all of the medical detection dogs including Diabetic, Epilepsy and Cancer Detection dogs. 1.9 Need for a Change in the Law All current legislation only applies specifically to Guide dogs. There is no law pertaining to assistance dogs and public access. However, Assistance dogs are exempt from being prosecuted for being in a property where food is supplied. (Food Safety Authority of Ireland 2015) We believe that: Assistance Dogs users need the same legal access as guide dog users.

5 All organisations either not-for-profit or private must ensure public liability insurance is provided for all qualified assistance dogs partnerships upon graduation. All organisations must as a priority ensure the welfare and safety of both the client and the dogs at all times and ensure proper procedures are in place to address any problem that would arise in this area. All current allowances received from Revenue to Guide dog users should be extended to all Assistance dog users. All assistance dogs should be exempt from dog licence equal to Guide dogs. As a group we are proposing an individual passport style document which will be issued to each ADI certified partnership to assist with identification of genuine partnerships. This will also possibly be backed up by a database which can be accessed via a shared website hosted by the Irish Kennel Club where any business, building, transport company could check the bona fides of the assistance dog. Our greatest concern is of an increasing numbers of companies selling assistance dog jackets and branded materials and the ease at which anyone can acquire these items. Our fear is that insufficiently trained dogs will behave in a manner which will affect access for all certified assistance dog partnerships 2. Research The sector is very fortunate to have engage with a research partner in UCC, one piece of research concluded in July 2014 and the second piece recently completed. This research will be outlined by Dr. Burgoyne. For further information please see facebook, this has links to all the speakers at last years seminar, and for further information please contact

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