REPORT ON WELFARE PROVISIONS FOR ASSISTANCE DOGS IN PUBLIC TRANSPORT
AN ANALYSIS OF STAKEHOLDER PERSPECTIVES IN NEW ZEALAND
Report prepared by Professor Neil Carr (Lead Investigator)
& Dr. Wiebke Finkler, Department of Tourism, University of Otago
21st of May 2018
This research assessed the extent to which current laws, policies, and practices regarding access to public transport in New Zealand incorporate concerns regarding the wellbeing of assistance dogs. The work is based on the recognition of these animals as sentient beings with welfare needs that have been expressed in the 5 freedoms for animals promoted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA, 2012). To meet the aims of the project, and following a literature- based review, 13 semi-structured interviews were conducted with stakeholders involved in public transport, including assistance dog handlers, assistance dog agencies, public transport providers and local government agencies in New Zealand.
The three key themes that emerged describe (i) access and welfare provisions in current legislation and policies (From Theory to Best Practice), (ii) discrepancies between legislation and policy, existing barrier and variation in transportation service provider (Access and Welfare Experiences: Between Law and Best Practice) and (iii) outline future communication strategies based on consultation and participation, as well as key messages aimed to overcome the barriers identified during the research (Promoting Welfare).
The report highlights gaps in the legislature regarding the welfare provisions afforded to service animals. Here, while legislation permits the presence of service animals within public spaces and places, including diverse forms of public transportation, there is a considerable gap regarding their welfare. Interpretation of the access legislature is largely up to individual transportation service providers, including whether or not additional provisions are made for the animals’ welfare in transit. The research project expands the attention of studies to date regarding access to public spaces for the disabled from a human-centric focus to one that also incorporates assessment of the wellbeing of assistance dogs. In doing so the study advances academic work and thinking in the field of disabled studies and has practical benefits for assistance dogs through the reassessment of policies and practices to ensure their wellbeing. Such a focus on the welfare of assistance dogs can only be beneficial for the handlers in terms of reducing concerns for their dogs’ wellbeing and potentially increasing the duration of the dogs’ working lives through a reduction in the stresses placed upon them. The results of the project have important implications for the future direction of disabled accessibility and welfare studies of assistance dogs travelling on public transport in New Zealand.
This research project was led by Professor Neil Carr with assistance from Dr. Wiebke Finkler based in the Department of Tourism, University of Otago, New Zealand. The project was funded by the Working Dog Centre, Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University (Wellington, New Zealand). We would like to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of public transport providers, assistance dog training agencies, assistance dog handlers and government agencies who provided their insights and perspectives during the research interviews.
Background and context
Today, there are virtually universal laws that enable guide dogs for the blind (as the iconic assistance dog) to access every public space, including all those ordinary dogs are banned from. More recently other types of assistance dogs have begun to gain similar rights of access though the extent and global coverage of such rights is currently far less universal (Carr, 2014). The term ‘assistance dog’ is a broad-spectrum term which encompasses the many different types of dogs who are trained to provide specific service to their handlers (Assistance Dogs International Inc., 2018a).
Considerable variation exists within the usage of assistance dog nomenclature and terminology around the world, as well as the types of assistance dogs who are recognized as assistance dogs. This is reflected in the legislation, regulations, and policies generated, both in terms of the nomenclature used, as well as the access afforded to different types of assistance dogs.
Assistance Dogs International (ADI) recognizes three broad categories of assistance dogs: guide dogs (for people who are blind or otherwise visually impaired), hearing dogs (for people who are deaf or hard of hearing), and service dogs (for people with disabilities other than those related to either vision or hearing) (Assistance Dogs International Inc., 2006; 2018a). While guide dogs have been trained for well over seventy years, and hearing dogs are the second most readily recognized assistance dogs in the world, training provided to diverse forms of assistance dogs under the umbrella term ‘service dogs’ is relatively new and has only recently begun to be recognized as providing valuable assistance for people with both physical disabilities and mental health concerns (Assistance Dogs International Inc., 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2018d). Here, considerable access barriers exist, that stem from misunderstanding of service dogs’ roles.
ADI has a standardised list of the behaviour and training standards required for all assistance animals. While additional specific criteria apply to specialized types of assistance dogs, these guidelines form the basis of all assistance dog requirements.
As a means to cultivate public support for the inclusion of assistance dogs within the public sphere, ADI has worked to cultivate behaviour and training standards relating to public appropriateness, behaviour, and training. It is important to note that these training standards include the negotiation and use of public transportation. While ADI sets the minimum standards for training assistance dogs by member organizations, it encourages affiliate programs and specific individual handlers to engage in additional training related to their ‘team’s’ needs (Assistance Dogs International Inc., 2018c).
These training standards include the following broad- spectrum areas, which must be met before a dog is placed:
• Basic obedience, including responding to verbal and non-verbal commands, being house-broken and well behaved in the home environment;
• Negotiation of obstacles, overhanging barriers, street crossings, city and country environments and public transportation with a ‘trainer-under blindfold’;
• Passing the Public Access Test (Assistance Dogs International, 2018c).
The following New Zealand organisations are accredited by either Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation:
• Assistance Dogs New Zealand Trust
• Hearing Dogs for Deaf People New Zealand
• Mobility Assistance Dogs Trust
• Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind
Within New Zealand several laws and statues include provisions for people with disabilities when accompanied by an assistance dog. The basis for the use of service animals comes from the Dog Control Act 1996. Within the majority of New Zealand legislation, service animals were termed service dogs, guide dogs, hearing dogs and companion dogs until 2006 when the collective term ‘disability assist dog’ was inserted into the Legislative language of the Dog Control Act (New Zealand Legislation, 1996
& 2006). Disability assist dogs are defined as a dog trained (or in training) to assist a person with a disability. Under the Dog Control (Certifying Organisations for Disability Assist Dogs) Order 2010 the following organisations are organisations that may certify a dog as a disability assist dog: (a) Assistance Dogs New Zealand; and (b) Perfect Partners Assistance Dogs Trust (New Zealand Legislation, 2010).
The Dog Control Act classified disability assist dogs as working dogs (New Zealand Legislation, 1996, p. 8). Disability assist dogs, and their handlers or trainers are granted access to public spaces where pet dogs are prohibited under the Miscellaneous Provisions, Section 75 of the amended Act (New Zealand Legislation, 2006). In New Zealand, “The Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the Act) imposes obligations on every person who owns or is in charge of an animal” (Ministry of Primary Industries, 2011, p. 45). The Animal Welfare Act 1999 was amended by the Animal Welfare Bill 2 (New Zealand Legislation, 2013). No specific mentions of disability assist dogs occur within the amending Bill. The Bill, however, notes that “Cruelty and the welfare of the dogs are already addressed by the Act, and the existing Dogs’ Code of Welfare also applies” (New Zealand Legislation, 2013, p. 4). Published by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), the Animal Welfare (Dogs) Code of Welfare 2010 specifically indicates its applicability to all working dogs including disability assist dogs (Ministry of Primary Industries, 2010). The Code details many aspects of dog ownership (including adoption and relinquishing ownership, as well as the obligations of dog owners, and handlers). It acknowledges that transport can cause significant distress to animals and describes minimum standards of care and management that need to be met when transporting animals and to encourage all those responsible for transportation of animals to adopt the highest standards of husbandry, care and handling, and to equal or exceed the minimum standards (Ministry of Primary Industries, 2011, p. 1). The provisions outlined in the Code are comprehensive and apply to diverse transportation types and scenarios. However, not all apply to the unique transportation needs of a disability assist dog team who depend on the proximity of disability assist dog and handler in order for the dog to be able to perform its ‘working tasks’. Despite this, no specific recommendations, standards or best practices articulated by the Code provide guidance for these unique transportation scenarios. For example, it is recommended that dogs “be transported using a specially designed, climate-controlled travelling crate ... [or] ... the closed boot of a car unless they are injured” (Ministry of Primary Industries, 2010, p. 37). These two proposed mode of vehicular travel are counterproductive to the working relationship between disability assist dog and handler, furthermore, they may prevent the dog’s ability to execute a specifically trained service task.
Despite existing laws stories of exclusion or second-rate access to public spaces experienced by guide dog handlers continue to circulate (Small, Darcy & Packer, 2012). The barring of people with guide dogs from public spaces is, Sanders (1999) suggests, due mainly to people’s ignorance of the laws that enable such access.
Whether it is a case of ignorance of the law or breaking of the law the situation misses the deeper point that people feel the need to bar access to guide dogs in particular and assistance dogs in general in the first place. Such barring is arguably not due to application of laws that ban non-assistance dogs from such spaces but from social constructions of dogs as being animals that do not belong in public spaces due to their lack of cleanliness or their potential to disrupt. This construction stands at odds with the highly trained nature of assistance dogs (Carr, 2014). Unfortunately, while work has begun to be undertaken looking at the issue of disability and access for the disabled to transport, tourism, and hospitality services and spaces, such works seem to have ignored the question of guide dogs in particular and assistance dogs more generally (i.e., Yau, McKercher & Packer, 2004; Daruwalla & Darcy, 2005; Daniels, Drogin Rodgers & Wiggins, 2005; Shaw & Coles, 2004; Darcy, 2003). Such work not only needs to examine everything from the perspective of the human but also with a view to the welfare needs and requirements of the dog. In particular, with reference to public transport (i.e., planes, trains, buses, and taxis) the question needs to be raised whether sufficient provisions are made by these service providers not just to allow assistance dogs access but to ensure the welfare of these animals. Here, Guide Dogs (UK) as the world's largest breeder and trainer of assistance dogs make a number of recommendations regarding the welfare of a guide dog while traveling. These recommendations include considering whether a service dog owner needs to travel with their dog, or whether the services provided by the dog can otherwise be met while traveling, to pre-departure training and wellness check for the dog, and in transit consideration.
The social and legal rules governing the access of service dogs to spaces where other dogs are barred is exemplified by the airline industry. Most, but not all, airlines state that service dogs are allowed to travel with their handler in the passenger cabin at no extra cost. Unlike small pet dogs who are allowed to travel in the same space as their owners, service dogs do not need to go in a crate. While on the surface this may look like a case of open access at work, a more detailed examination shows that service dog handlers still face a variety of access barriers. Some airlines state the dog must be positioned on an absorbent matt throughout the flight (e.g., Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines), the logistics of which are clearly unrealistic. Furthermore, while allowing service dogs on their flights Aeroflot states “Passengers travelling with guide dogs are provided with seats at the rear of the cabin.” This effectively consigns service dogs and their handlers to the worst seats on the plane which is arguably a clear example of discrimination. Acknowledging that most service dogs are large breeds, such as Retrievers and Labradors, the suggestion that these animals should sit in the legroom space of their handler (the standard position noted on airline websites) is another unrealistic proposition. Furthermore, some airlines specifically ban service dogs from sitting on seats next to their owners (e.g., Korean Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas and South African Airways). As in the case of airlines the situation currently seems to be focused upon facilitating access in a space clearly designed for humans. A similar situation can be said to exist on public buses and trains and within taxis with little attention apparently being given to animal welfare. It is arguably the case that the emphasis is always on providing access for assistance dogs
for the human handlers’ benefit. In this way the dog is seen or perceived to be an object or tool (albeit a highly trained and skilled one) rather than a sentient being with rights and welfare needs. Such a position is arguably an extension of the traditional view of animals in general as being objects to be owned by and utilised for the benefit of humans; a view widely held within society and enshrined in law in many ways (Rudy, 2011; Bekoff, 2007). This research therefore seeks to bridge the gap in the literature regarding the welfare provisions of service and assistance dogs in public transportation.
The aim of this study is to critically examine current laws, policies, and practices of governments and public transport providers regarding the access of assistance dogs to determine the extent to which public transport providers cater to the physiological and psychological welfare needs of assistance dogs. The research involved (i) a literature-based review of service dog training and welfare needs (covering legislative inventory and policy analysis), followed by (ii) interviews conducted with relevant stakeholder groups, namely public transport providers, assistance dog training agencies, assistance dog handlers and local government agency staff. This report presents the findings (and key themes) that emerged from the interviews conducted in the context of key literature reviewed. The work is based on the recognition of the minimum physical welfare requirements of such dogs and their position as sentient beings capable of experiencing pain and suffering. This in turn is built around the concept of the 5 freedoms for animals promoted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Interviews were conducted with stakeholders in Dunedin, Wellington, and Auckland to assess their views regarding the welfare of assistance dogs in public transport. Talking to the assistance dog trainers and assistance dog handlers about the welfare experiences of the dogs they train and use is a surrogate for talking directly to the dog.
Doing so is, as Silverman (1997) and McConnell (2005) rightly note, difficult. However, as Bekoff (2007) points out our daily interactions with a variety of species (and most notably dogs) prove that, while it may not be perfect, if we are willing to listen to one another we can converse, though not necessarily in the same way as between humans. None-the-less, given the number of dogs trained as assistance animals by training agencies and used by assistance dog handlers their insight into the welfare needs of the animals will provide a unique and professional perspective. Talking to the assistance dog’s regular handler will provide insight into the on-going welfare provisions of assistance animal over the span of their lifetime, as well as providing detailed accounts of individual dogs’ experiences with diverse public transportation providers. The aims of the interviews with assistance dog agencies and handlers were to determine:
• the training provided to service dogs, prior to the commencement of their work assignment, as it pertains to welfare during public transportation use;
• The welfare experiences of service dogs during public transport use, as perceived by the humans they assist and the humans training them (and any changes which may have occurred over time);
• Whether discrepancies exist between stated legislation and policy regarding public transportation, and the welfare experiences of assistance dogs; and,
• Whether the welfare experiences of assistance dogs differ by transportation service provider, transportation type, canine breed, or type of assistance dog (i.e. the service they provide to their human companion) during their training.
The purpose of the governmental and public transport provider interviews was to determine public consultation processes and legislative frameworks which informed the development of New Zealand’s service dog related legislation, while affording public transportation providers the opportunity to reflect on the implementation of said legislation into practice. The specific aims of the government and public transport providers’ interviews were to determine:
• The ways in which legislation is translated into policy;
• Whether discrepancies exist between legislation and policy; and,
• How public transportation providers implement said policies (i.e. training provided to staff, practical decision-making processes, and the practical in- situ implementation of said policies etc.).
A series of 13 interviews (20-60 minutes each) was undertaken with public transport providers, assistance dog training agencies, assistance dog handlers and local government staff located in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland between February and April 2018. The interviews were designed to explore the issue of the welfare of assistance dogs on public transport beyond the official laws and policies. Table 1 summarises participants and related stakeholder group. In addition to the 13 interviews, invitations were sent out to involve further representatives of government (other regional councils and government ministry), and public transport providers including railway services, bus service providers and boat-based transport providers in the research. Unfortunately, these parties either did not respond or were unable to participate in the research during the field-work period of February-April 2018.
Most of the interviews were conducted face-to-face apart from two interviews which were done over the telephone (see Table 1). The interviews were digitally audio- recorded, with the consent of the participants. This process enabled the collection of an accurate and unbiased record of the discussion, allowed for the use of direct quotes in the interpretation of the qualitative material and permitted the researcher to focus on the interviews rather than on writing down the subjects’ responses (Krueger &
Casey, 2014). The audio recordings were fully transcribed which enabled emersion in the empirical material and familiarity with the focus group transcripts. The empirical material was analysed and interpreted using manual thematic analysis to locate emergent themes and sub-themes (Patton, 2002; Braun & Clarke, 2014).
In order to safeguard anonymity, participants full names do not appear in this report and any other publications resulting from this study. However, with participants permission anonymous quotations are used, in addition to reporting aggregate themes which emerge from interviews with participants. The research was conducted and approved as part of University of Otago Ethic requirements.
Table 1: Summary of interview participants, stakeholder group, relevant context and interview length
STAKEHOLDER GROUP PARTICIPANT
PSEUDONYM INTERVIEW LENGTH (MINUTES) Transport Provider (Train) Participant 1 11 Transport Provider (Airline) Participant 2 * 28 Transport Provider (Taxi) Participant 3 24 Transport Provider (Taxi) Participant 4 65 Transport Provider (Taxi) Participant 5 16 Assistance Dog Agency
Puppy Walker/Breeder Participant 6 42 Assistance Dog Agency Participant 7 66 Local Government Council
Assistance Dog Agency Assistance Dog Handler International Body
Participant 8 46
Assistance Dog Agency Assistance Dog Handler
Participant 9 48
Assistance Dog Agency
Assistance Dog Handler Participant 10 * 45 Assistance Dog Handler Participant 11 40 Assistance Dog Handler Participant 12 50 Assistance Dog Handler Participant 13 27
*= interview conducted via telephone
The interviews were fully-transcribed following each individual interview. Thematic analysis of the research interviews revealed three key themes (see Figure 2) with application to welfare provision for assistance dogs in public transport, which, although presented separately are intertwined and connected, and characterised as: (i) From Theory to Best Practice, (ii) Access and Welfare Experiences: Between Law and Best Practice and (iii) Promoting Welfare. Verbatim quotes are reported throughout the discussion and attributed to anonymous participants, as outlined in Table 1. A summary of recommendations is provided at the end of the report.
Figure 2: Research Themes
Theme 1 From Theory to Best Practice: describes welfare provisions in New Zealand legislation and during the training of assistance dogs. It also highlights examples of the implementation of legislation into best-practice public transport policies.
While the focus of the interviews related to public transport in New Zealand, international travel was covered with a particular focus on aviation transport between New Zealand and the USA. Due to the geographical isolation of New Zealand “not many people travel with dogs internationally… Unlike people that travel from European to European countries or Canada from the United States… and because New Zealand and Australia are two of the strictest countries to do with bringing back your dog... we are working to make it more accessible… I hope there will be more streamlined international guidelines and policies for international travel so that is easier and cheaper to travel for the dog and the person” (Participant 8). “Under United States rules at an airport you have to have relief stations... we have arranged and facilitated a relief station on arrival in Auckland ultimately for the well-being of the dog”
From Theory to Best Practice
Access and Welfare Experiences Promoting
Most participants interviewed had a good understanding of existing legislation regarding public access for assistance dogs in public spaces, places and transport in New Zealand, where based on “the Dog Control Act from 1996 the only two public areas that would not be accessible for my dog would be the ICU unit at hospital and Burns Unit because of the clinical environment, and also a Zoo can ask you whether you mind someone at the reception looking after the dog” (Participant 8). In addition, transport provider Participant 1 regarded it as “almost a human right to be able to travel”. The rules were regarded as crucial for people with disability to “participate fully in society (Participant 8)” and “lead a normal life” (Participant 5). The rules are a tool for empowerment “so that people that require assistance can live a normal life and can have full access like everybody else. To me it's not any different to a wheelchair or a cane or walking stick or hearing aid” (Participant 3). Existing legislation is necessary or else “we could just be refused and we couldn't do anything about that” (Participant 13).
One of the key challenges identified when it comes to the transfer of the law into policies lies in “the interpretation of the Dog Act” (Participant 7). This relates to all stakeholders interviewed including assistance dog agencies, public transport providers and assistance dog handlers. Participants talked about the mutual responsibility when it comes to assistance dogs and public transport, where “my understanding is the owner is responsible for the dog in the cabs and we have an obligation to take them in the cabs” (Participant 5). In addition, the training of the dogs is a vital element when it comes to their welfare. Interview participants with less exposure to assistance dogs were less aware of the legislation (“I don't know what the legislation is”) and as a result were lacking policies developed for their business
“because it's rare…. it is probably a situation by situation thing” (Participant 1).
A transport provider from the airline industry stated that within New Zealand “the Dog Control Act defines what is considered an assistance dog” (Participant 2). International legislation in regard to assistance dogs influences policies for aviation providers in New Zealand providing service to the USA as they “introduced their non-discrimination on the basis of disability... and within that there are specific requirements in regard to service, emotional and psychiatric support dogs and across the rest of our network as well” (Participant 2). In comparison “some of the Arabic states they are still allowed to say no dogs allowed! Usually when I travel or when I recommend travel, I do anything from Qantas, Air New Zealand, Air Canada etc so it's only looking at where there are flights that are linked to a country that signs up to…the United Nations Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities and their international agreements through the international aviation authority… if a country does not legislate for access for disabled people then you will have a problem” (Participant 8).
When it comes to welfare provisions for assistance dogs, transport providers from the aviation industry outlined their policy of providing an additional free seat for assistance dogs if available, where the dogs will then sit in the foot area to give “the person travelling with a dog comfort, and most importantly the dog that is required to perform a task both in flight and the minute that the flight land… they need to have comfort as well rather than be rammed under a seat and in the passenger’s space in terms of their legs… obviously on the day of travel if we have a full flight then that seat can't unfortunately be utilised but we also then offer the option to go on another flight where it is possible” (Participant 2). The policy also covers dogs in training, because “if I was
in a need for a dog as a service dog and I was needing to travel frequently I wouldn't want to be matched with a dog that a) has never flown or has not any training related to flying or b) be stuck with a dog that I can't actually use because it doesn't tolerate being in an aircraft or on a bus or in a taxi. I guess this is a fundamental piece and we try to facilitate that part” (Participant 2).
One of the assistance dog service agency participants who is also a dog handler felt strongly that the welfare of assistance dogs is not the responsibility of the transport provider but instead up to the individual and part of the training of a guide dog: “the only thing that they are obliged to do is to carry the dog… the welfare of the animals is up to the person who is using the dog… I do training (of public transport staff) and people say to me what we do about the dog? And I say you don't do anything. You don't touch it, you've got nothing to do with it… if you are using a guide dog then before you catch the train or the bus you toilet your dog prior to going …. if I'm flying by air I make sure that I toilet my dog before I go to the airport. That is part of the training for us as blind people with our guide dogs that we are aware when we use public transport that we need to relieve our dog” (Participant 10). A significant part of the training is teaching the dogs partner with a disability to protect their dog and how to ensure his or her dog is safe, secure and feeling confident. This is established with the bond between dog handler and assistance dog, so “that if they even ask them to do something like going to a train or plane the dog will know that my human hasn't asked me to do anything that is going to threaten me… but the external factors that we don't know… is the noise… it's the reaction from other people… all of those external things are life situations that can't be controlled” (Participant 7).
An Assistance Dog Agency participant working as a consultant to Auckland Transport trains dog handlers on how to use trains “and part of my role is I work on training materials for bus companies and taxi companies so I've done a lot of work in that space.… I help to design the trains in Auckland so I make sure that in the design of the train there are places in the design we can put your dog safely where they're not going to be stood on and you are fine and you have complete control… so all of those things have got the infrastructure build and so that you can actually safely put your dog away and make it nice and comfortable” (Participant 10). New Zealand is part of the International Federation of Guide Dog Schools “so we have to go through accreditation every five years. Our staff regularly take part in international symposium and international conferences looking at upgrades, different ways of guiding, different pieces of equipment of harness etc … we are constantly being refreshed in terms of international best practice and trends... the training covers service dogs as well as the training of buses and the rail industry in particular in Auckland where we have quite strong links with transport provider… I know that in the bigger bus companies it is in the training manual…. if you have Go Bus in Dunedin I've seen their training manual and it is very explicit the covering off of service dogs in the training manuals so the drivers should be aware” (Participant 10). Accessible bus design allows enough space
“under the seat so you can put your dog under the seat and your dog will not slide…
there are designated areas that most bus companies have to have a preferential seating arrangement… the services are provided and... you learn how to sit your dog so it's out of the way that the animal is safe and not getting in the way of other people”
The training of the assistance dogs plays a vital role when it comes to their welfare using public transport. During the training stage assistance dogs are first being socialised by Puppy Walkers who “socialize the dogs… I'll take him on the busses”
(Participant 6) and other public transport providers. It is a significant process “to match a person with the right dog and vice versa… they come and interview you… video you:
how fast you walk, with your cane or with your current dog… look at your family environment” (Participant 8). The connection between the dog and handler has a significant impact on the welfare of the dog, and “the personality match is crucial when they do their matching... speed first and then personalities… I find as a Puppy Walker that is really interesting because we get different breeds… when I’m walking with Oliver (German Shephard) he doesn't need nearly as much encouragement as a Golden Retriever does” (Participant 6). The teamwork aspect between dog handler and assistance dog contributes to both their welfare when it comes to “how will the two of you work together? … sometimes the two can't work together and then the people and the dog will have to be re-matched with someone else” (Participant 8).
While the training covers important elements of habituating assistance dogs to public transport situations there is also a personality element of the dog to consider as “some dogs love unfamiliar environments and some dogs only love familiar environment …it's an individual thing” (Participant 8). The guide dog “totally relies on your instructions that you give them so you actually have to be quite a confident and expert traveller before you get a guide dog… we do empower each other and that seems to grow as the time goes on” (Participant 9). While acts are in place “that enable us to take our dog to most places … it is important that our dog maintains its training and skills. That's a level of accountability on behalf of the dog handler” (Participant 9).
When it comes to implementing legislation into business practices one taxi provider provides training to his staff where “we talk about health and safety a lot. We talk about obligations. We talk about guide dogs with staff. We train our drivers on health and safety and keeping them and their clients safe so” (Participant 5). Here, it is important for business practices and staff training to be “detailed and that they're aware of the laws and the expectations of customer service” (Participant 3). Participants from both public transport service providers and assistance dog handlers noted the importance of community, where especially in smaller communities over time transport providers get to know “most of the handlers in town… and develop their own best-practice e.g.
the receptionist has all the in instructions such as go to the door give them the elbow, if they have a dog you don't touch it… if we get special instructions we make sure that the driver knows what the client wants. Make sure they go to where they want to go”
A central part when considering welfare provisions for assistance dogs in public transport is to recognise the importance of the relationship between assistance dog and their handlers. The welfare of assistance dog is closely linked to the welfare of their handler and how they are working as a team. When it comes to the relationship between assistance dog handlers and their dogs, assistance dog handlers described dogs as “a great option for mobility assistance” (Participant 8), and a tool of empowerment for their handlers to lead a normal life using public transport. “The main purpose of my assistance dog is enabling me to get from A to B, avoiding obstacles in the path… my assistance dogs give me immense confidence to be able to access my community whenever I need to” (Participant 9). While assistance dogs are a vital part in terms of the practical support they provide to their handlers such as “open and close
a door and assist someone help them cross the road… for me 90% of it is how these dogs make people feel… it is an icebreaker with the public. And suddenly I don't feel so lonely, I don't feel so isolated” (Participant 7) because “people come to you and they talk to you! (Participant 6). In social settings you are more likely to “get someone approaching you with a guide dog than if you have a cane” (Participant 9). And because dog “are checked upon all the time their welfare is always ensured… I had a lot of people say I do not feel complete…without my dog I feel like as if I'm not part of the world… If I see a blind person walking with a guide dog down in the mall they are living a normal life and that's what you want” (Participant 6).
Clearly, assistance dogs provide significant psychosocial benefits to their handlers.
Here, the assistance dog can become “everything that goes with how you would treat something that you love, something that you care for, something that is alive” in particularly because “for once in their life they are responsible for something rather than other people making decisions for them” (Participant 7). This highlights the close connection assistance dog handlers can develop with their assistance dogs, which like a “shadow…comes everywhere with me” (Participant 11). The dogs are regarded as sentient beings and responsibility, where “the most important component is the relationship we have” (Participant 8). While participants acknowledged the responsibility and work that comes with looking after a dog most could not imagine their life without a dog. Assistance dogs can provide important “emotional support… I do get a bit anxious sometimes in stressful situations, just really unfamiliar situations, so while she's guiding me I also pet her and talk to her just to keep myself more relaxed” (Participant 12). Participant 11 who uses a hearing dog Caspar “wanted a dog that was going to be helpful in terms of my deafness because I'm a single mum.
Deaf people have a higher level of anxiety compared to the general public and I've noticed with Caspar my anxiety is much less because you know people’s attention is also straight on Caspar rather than on me - so making new relationships and friends with people with Casper is much easier”. Here, the welfare of assistance dogs in public transport contributes to the social connectedness of their handlers both in their communities and beyond: “the dog makes you laugh, it makes you feel good, it makes you human! It brings back these things that you can lose with disability, because that's what I find interesting with social construction of disability - it's not the disability - it's the way it makes you feel and the way other people treat you” (Participant 7)
While the rules and regulations allow a dog handler to take the dog to most places “it’s in my personal lifestyle and me making a decision for the welfare of the dog”
(Participant 8). As noted “many of these things that relate to the welfare of the dog are not written down anywhere! Nothing says that the dog should have a pit stop every 10 hours but you know that for the welfare of your dog you should really try to organise it” (Participant 8). As a consequence, it is largely up to the dog handler to decide when it is not in the best-welfare interest of their dog to be taken along, for example. “I went to a conference and I decided not to take my dog because it would have taken me about 24 hours to get to Norway… it would be quite stressful for the dog… I also won't take my dog to a loud concert” (Participant 8). Assistance dog handlers carry a
“responsibility to look after our dogs in such a way that they don't impact on other people. That is part of our responsibility as passengers on a bus or train or aircraft...
part of us being trained with a guide dog… each individual guide dog user does it in their own unique way” (Participant 10).
Assistance dogs carry an important educational opportunity when out in the public with their handlers as “you hear parents whispering to their children explaining to them that this is a guide dog that helps that person to see… so for children it becomes a normality and that is a huge step forward” (Participant 3). Here, the dogs can also become a tool for people with disability to create change as one interview participant highlighted who does “a lot of work around by-laws and legislation. Part of my role is that occasionally I go and present to a select Committee in Parliament or to a Bylaw Committee about changes that they might make that makes access for blind people a bit easier. So, if I walk into a room to make a submission they all sit up right! It's not because I'm wearing a suit and a tie, it's because I've got a guide dog walking in beside me… I'm speaking from lived experience” (Participant 10).
Theme 2: Access and Welfare Experiences: Between Law and Best Practice describes discrepancies between legislation and policy, the double barrier of dogs and disability, cultural diversity and values, the social construction of disability, access versus welfare, and how we travel i.e. variations between transportation service providers, transportation type, canine breed, or type of assistance dog.
“The welfare of dogs in public transport is not considered in my experience…there isn't a welfare component in the Act that you are allowing this dog in public places under these criteria... I wonder whether the act could be changed” to consider the welfare of assistance dogs. The challenge here is “how can we change the way humans see and treat people with disability, treat people with animals… to recognise that we as a country have given public access rights to dogs travelling on public transport... so if it is a given that people need a service dog to lead a fulfilling life - let’s take it a step further and change it to the welfare of the dog” (Participant 7).
The largest barrier when it comes to the translation of relevant legislation into practice lies in the different interpretation of the legislation. All of the assistance dog handlers interviewed as part of this research acknowledged that incidents of being denied access on public transport have decreased in New Zealand in recent years. This highlights the success of past public education and communication initiatives aimed at increasing public awareness about guide dogs. Participants however also commented on the fact that mostly this awareness relates to the well-known guide dog brand and associated breeds of Labradors or Golden Retrievers, as “there is nowhere near the awareness with other dogs compared to guide dogs” (Participant 10). Here, the Guide Dog brand can create a barrier for other assistance dogs in both public awareness and public transport, where “you will still see signs that say only guide dogs allowed, and if it is not a guide dog then we find our clients are asked to leave”
(Participant 7). “If people bring a blind dog they would say no problem but if they bring another assistance dog that could be an issue” (Participant 5). Hence, further education is required about the variety of assistance dogs, and that “they all look different… the harnesses look different… the brand and insignia etc” (Participant 8).
Participants from all stakeholder groups expressed a lack of public awareness when it comes to dogs other than guide dogs, especially emotional support dogs, which are
“often small toy breeds… and with the general public not knowing the rules that this dog is required to be here by law, we are actually being questioned about the righteous legitimacy of these dogs and why they're there. And often that can come from the front end of the aircraft so this is class travel and people who object to having dogs in the
cabin. So, our staff are managing those conversations in flight and obviously we have to be extremely careful about how we discuss this information given that it is private”
(Participant 2). On a United States flight, under the Department Transport legislation
“we are also required to carry emotional support dogs and psychiatric support dogs.
Those types of dogs under that legislation don't require any specific training to perform a task. The certification process is more on the passenger, that means if I was travelling with an emotional support dog I would have to have documentation from a medical professional treating my mental illness… there is a requirement for sociability with that dog but again no specific training versus say a guide dog or a hearing dog where it has gone through rigorous training” (Participant 2). Recently, “there was an attack by someone's assistance dog on a plane and now they're trying to get all of this extra strict rule… if you open it up to all sorts of assistant dogs many of them don’t go through rigorous training” (Participant 8).
Significant barriers were identified when it comes to the implementation of legislation at national policy level in regard to financial support for assistance dog handlers from Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ), where “you can’t get any benefit for your hearing dog and mobility dog because they don't have the same recognition at government level. You have a disability allowance but you can't get any support towards your assistance dog, while if it's a blind dog you can” (Participant 11).
Currently, “only guide dogs in New Zealand are entitled to a subsidy from work and income New Zealand... and the rest has got to be recognised as well. This is a big problem” and “will have to be changed on a policy level from government” (Participant 7).
When it comes to the implementation of legislation into policies, a transport provider described existing difficulties accessing accreditation necessary to transport people with disabilities in regard to the Total Mobility Card scheme run by the New Zealand Transport Agency and regional councils. “The reason we can't be part of this is because we don't have any disabled ready vehicles. 95% of people using the disability card don't need a dedicated vehicle…the Wellington Council and Regional Council will not just give us access to that card based on the fact that we can do 95% of the jobs.
We're cheaper than other providers, we are green, low emission so my perspective is the counsel is blocking” us “from getting those people a choice of provider... We looked at vans and modifying the front seat but what driver is going to spend $25,000 knowing he's not going to have any customers? And even if you modify the van there's no guarantee that they will take us on … they just said that there's no chance if we don't have a modified van... and around we go” (Participant 5).
The majority of assistance dog handlers interviewed had good experiences when travelling with Air New Zealand and found the airline “fabulous. Casper gets his own seat and everything” while in comparison “JetStar is not that great. They sometimes try to charge an extra seat” (Participant 11). An issue arose when trying to book a seat online as it did not appear possible for assistance dog handlers to block a seat for their dogs when booking online, which does not incur additional fees unlike phone bookings
“there's still a bit of web access sort of things to sort out if you're travelling with an assistance dog” (Participant 8). The aviation transport provider interviewed outlined their policy of putting down “matting, more as a precautionary kind of step… most service dogs are very well trained in respect of not relieving themselves, but they are sometimes in a slightly foreign environment - not all dogs fly that much - so we put on
some matting and again that is to the comfort of everybody… it is easy to clean if there is an accident” (Participant 2). Assistance dog handlers however regarded this policy of providing a mat as unnecessary and impractical: “when I fly I don't have any problems with her on the plane but they do insist that the dog sits on a little absorbent mat which the dogs don't like (and mine actually eats it) … but they insist that they put the mat down so I find that a little bit frustrating because I know that my dogs won't have an accident” (Participant 12). “The dogs are well trained they don't go for a toilet on the plane... it's needless” (Participant 3). Alternatively, “just use a little fleecy blanket that you can just chuck into the wash” (Participant 12).
While the training of dogs safeguards against toileting accidents while on the aircraft (unless it is a puppy in training), when it comes to airport facilities the lack of adequate toileting areas for assistance dogs was identified as a significant issue especially when travelling internationally. While the “toileting issue at airports has improved a lot in the United States and Australia” (Participant 7), all of the assistance dog handlers and assistance dog agency participants interviewed felt that “they would like to have a toileting area near some of our airports. … where you can safely and independently toilet your dog”, especially if a person has “been caught up when the airport may have been closed for 4-5 hours because of weather” (Participant 10) or unexpected flight delays.
When it comes to US flights, the legitimacy of request can become an issue as anyone can register a service dog in The United States “while paying 10 or $15 on the United States website and ticking a box saying I certify it is that dog is classed as a service dog in The United States… and it probably is my biggest concern that this will then put the legitimate service dogs and those with legitimate needs at risk” (Participant 2). To address the problem the aviation transport provider interviewed created a “a dedicated team that essentially looks after approval of travel …it… comes down to team up about 8 who operate on a shift basis and who deal with service dog requests, emotional support dog requests as well as a raft of other disability and medical and clearance type of things” (Participant 2). This ensures consistency and professional implementation of their policy. In addition, the US law resulted in regular training of aviation staff when it comes to assistance dogs and disability. While this helped in the case of airline transport it also highlights the inherent difficulty of keeping up with legitimacy, identification and certification in the context of increasing variety of assistance dogs around the world. Clearly, while “lots of things are happening better…
it only takes one person that can get a harness and take their pet dog onto a bus with a fake identification and they can give the rest of us a bad reputation” (Participant 8).
There were mixed responses in regard to the quality of the training for preparing assistance dogs for public transport situations. Some participants felt that overall the training is working well in preparing assistance dogs for everyday access to public transport. Here, the dichotomy of access versus welfare was prominent. Assistance dog handlers and service agencies both noted that the focuses on safe access to public transport, rather than the welfare provisions for dogs. Participants highlighted the importance of having written policies when it comes to best practice as there will always be new staff in the public transport sector that require training on how to respond to assistance dogs and dog handlers “because it's not all about knowing legislation but also how you handle people and basic things such as not to address the dog directly etc.” (Participant 8). Some participants felt that while the dogs are
“very well trained for the day-to-day life and community in which they live, they are not so well trained for people who are in different and new environments including “planes or trains or buses” (Participant 3), and that “the training that is offered now it's not as extensive as it used to be… I think in New Zealand we are a little bit informal and a little bit too laid back” (Participant 12). In addition, changing environments such as in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake can make the training get in the way of the welfare of assistance dogs and their handlers. Assistance Dog Agency participants 6 described the situation of a dog handler in Christchurch who due to the earthquake has become “pretty much housebound without a dog … she found it too hard after the earthquake applying for another dog and there was no way she could walk the dog that wasn't on the road, and the dogs are not allowed to walk on the road! So, she just said I will wait until everything calms down but, in the meantime, she has lost so much confidence to be able to cope… it's just a sad case” (Participant 6).
Despite an improvement in public awareness over the last years, stories of being denied access were prominent: five out of the six assistance dog handlers interviewed as part of this research had direct experiences of being denied access to public transport, primarily by taxis followed by busses. “We learn that as blind people… when I travel to Auckland we are always told what companies to use” (Participant 13).
Assistance Dog Agency participant 7 receives multiple calls per week “from either a restaurant or hotel, or a complaint from one of my clients or a puppy raiser: we've been on public transport and have been asked to leave. I always handle this is to try and use the opportunity to educate rather than be angry or disappointed... but then again I can understand from their perspective that they are put into a position that makes them feel very uncomfortable, they feel humiliated… a lot of our clients have speech impediments...they are in a wheelchair… it’s a very threatening for them” (Participant 7). Most of the dog handlers interviewed described the fact that as an assistance dog handler one has to “develop a thick skin as time goes on... I like to defuse situations and calmly just work on bringing the person around but also you need to be quite clear of your rights because you need to get that across to people” (Participant 9).
In terms of transport providers most of the issues described by the dog handlers related to the use of taxis, especially in the large centres of “Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, mainly if it's on a taxi rank and I've been with other people that have seen the driver's just pull away… you're quite at the mercy really on a rank, because on a rank you don't know who they are” (Participant 12). This highlighted the importance of communities for assistance dog handlers and the importance of knowing and having a positive relationship with particular transport providers which are known to them, and which have well trained staff and policies in place to consider the welfare of assistance dogs and their handlers. Some “use an app which Dunedin taxi has which is really good it tells us which text is coming and how far away the taxi is which is great” (Participant 12). Here, phone apps applications available can help assistance dog handlers to book taxi companies. When out of their home-town and travelling for example “in Auckland, I have a regular driver for the same reasons…in Dunedin the majority of drivers in taxis are pretty good even the ones who are not originally from New Zealand … in Auckland and Wellington I'm not comfortable enough to try and go to places by bus so I'm reliant on taxis in those areas and I do when I call a cab actually feel a bit anxious waiting for it because I wonder is there going to be a drama about the dog” (Participant 12). Confusion was also expressed when it comes to the regulatory standing of companies such as Uber which don’t register as a taxi
and described as not having “quite developed the awareness about assistance dogs yet” (Participant 11).
A barrier that became apparent during the interviews relates to the cultural diversity and values regarding dogs in New Zealand. This has to do with the perception of dogs in New Zealand culture relating to “people from farming backgrounds” (Participant 12).
One participant felt strongly that “New Zealand is cruel when it comes to dogs. There's so many dog unfriendly areas and so few dog friendly areas especially if you don't have a car… I used to live at the beach and we had a great beach to run around. It’s been much harder since I moved to the city” (Participant 11). In addition, taxi drivers do reflect the multi-cultural society of New Zealand and different values towards dogs.
Many taxi drivers “come from other countries and even though they know that they have to learn about assistance dogs and that that they have to carry them they're still reluctance to do so. I've had some drivers say to me whether I can face my dog's head away from them over by the window so they don't have the touch them by mistake or anything so but at least those ones are taking us” (Participant 12). One of the transport providers addressed this issue with much consideration and openness because “a large percentage of our drivers are Muslim drivers...and the solution is to get to the bottom of the cultural issue…. I believe the issue is dog saliva touching clothes… it is hard if you have legislation on one side and religion on the other: how do you respect each other? … I feel that we should break down as many barriers for people that need assistance dogs as possible. So first of all, when you to talk to the Muslim drivers and find out what the actual problem is… I have established that there is no issue according to Islam for taking working dogs, the issue is with pet dogs only.
The Muslim drivers I have talked to have said they are happy to take working dogs as they are not pets… however, due to a general lack of exposure, it was indicated that should a dog not be controlled by the owner then there is considerable fear of a dog touching, licking or biting which is a distraction with respect to Health and Safety, distracting the driver. The comment that some Muslims may not know that working dogs are accepted by Islam also was bought up, so education will play a part in solution also” (Participant 5).
A significant distraction when using public transport and being out in public described by all of the assistance dog handlers interviewed was people trying to pet the dog while it is in work-mode and wearing their harness. Dog handlers often have to resort to using known taxi drivers where a code-of-practice was established based on previous experience “because I know then that they don't interfere with my dog when she's working” (Participant 12). People should not interfere with assistance dogs such as petting them or talking to them while they are in working mode. “You're not going to go up to someone and interfere with their bicycle or wheelchair so please don't interfere with a working dog” (Participant 3). Most interview participants across stakeholder groups reported a lack of understanding for no interaction with a dog if they have a harness on, and instead the temptation is to interact with the dog. “People also don't always really understand the responsibility that a working dog has. Someone distracted Rana the other day as we were coming out of a play as we were coming down really quite steep steps! When I was younger I used to be quite snappy to people but now I've realise that you've got to educate people, so I'm just saying please don't distract my dog while she's working. But I don't think people realise how dangerous it is when they interfere with a working dog…the same crossing the road. The other day I had people trying to pet her in the middle of the road” (Participant
12). The assistance dog is there for keeping the person safe. because “the other thing that people don't realise: the dogs don't make all of the decisions. When a dog comes to the road to cross it doesn't make 100% of the decision...it sits down and the person will listen and if he/she doesn't hear anything it will tell the dog to go... if the dogs sees something such as a bike or an electric car it will not go so the personal listens again...
so it is a team effort” (Participant 6). Hence, education should focus on increasing awareness about the importance of not interfering with assistance dogs when working.
One of the issues addressed with taxies relates to dog hair in the car and the manager of a taxi company described that “the only hassle I have with some of my drivers is when they (dogs) are moulting because you might get the next client come in and allergic to dogs…. I've got a driver who luxes the car out but you can't always do that because you haven't got time” (Participant 4). Participant 12 described her experiences with dog hair as “about 2 years ago I had a yellow dog and I was in Wellington and the whole way the taxi driver was going on about all she's got so much hair and I'm going to be cleaning my car for half an hour after this and he went on and on and it was really horrible it makes me feel awful… this is a barrier for me when it comes to traveling and it makes me feel I almost find myself apologizing for having a dog … even though I know that having a dog is my right and that is the best way to travel... So, I do think sort of twice before getting taxis outside of Dunedin” (Participant 12). Some taxi drivers put a “sheet down on the seat and on the edge of the floor when he knows that he is caring assistance dogs. I don't have a problem with that because I know that the next person that make it into the taxi may have a black business suit and you know so I understand that other clients also have their needs” (Participant 12).
Mixed-messages and established practices can also create barriers and education gaps as described by Participant 3 who “watched a video at the Otago Regional Council recently “about mobility training for people and the instructions was that the driver was to take the harness off the dog and that the dog sits in the back seat. I yet have to find a handler or dog that is to sit apart or sit on the back seat”. This highlights the importance of training practices adjusting to changing transport technology developments such as airbag placements. Current training practices in New Zealand where dog handler and dog are seated in the passenger seat and foot well contradict best practice guidelines developed by Guide Dogs UK (2016) which recommend that if there is space to do so, it is advisable and preferable to move the front passenger seat forward and place your dog in the foot well behind it, supervised by a person sat behind the driver (Guide Dogs UK, 2016). While this best-practice recommendation reduces risk of fatal injury to the dog when airbags are activated, it has not been picked in the training of assistance dogs in New Zealand. Ongoing collaboration between council staff, assistance dog agencies and dog handlers would likely clarify the matter, especially as assistance dog handlers expressed concerns about the welfare of their dogs in regard to airbag injuries when sitting in the front foot well as “having airbags in the front of cars now does concern me quite a lot now… I heard a lot of stories of dogs being killed if the airbags come out” (Participant 12).
Inconsistent design of transport infrastructure such as in busses and trains was identified as barriers for the welfare of assistance dogs. Clearly, while transport providers are making increasing efforts and new accessible designs and standards exist, it is important to provide those consistently across New Zealand as best practice
standards for both access and welfare of assistance dog handlers and their dogs.
Many busses are still lacking appropriate signage of dedicated seating and adequate design as “you get your dog under the seat; the bus takes off and then the dog just slides away because it's parallel to the road” (Participant 6). In addition, the different layouts on busses when it comes to the activation of the bell creates significant safety concerns amongst the assistance dog handler community interviewed in this research, as having “to stand up in the bus and walk to the front to get to the nearest bell... that is so unsafe with a dog” (Participant 9).
The interviews also highlighted the fact that public transport extends beyond merely the mode of transport, and also covers public spaces and hospitality service providers.
A number of participants reported that they have “been refused at motels” (Participant 13), hotels, cafes, restaurants and dairies. In addition, there was a lack of knowledge by some of the transport providers interviewed about access to transport modes other than their own (e.g. a taxi driver didn’t know what the rules were when it comes to busses) and hospitality service providers, where “I'm not sure how they get on in hotels and restaurant? Can you take the dog?” (Participant 4). As the participant from the airline industry put it “it's all sort of hand-in-hand really… what is the point of flying to Los Angeles if you can only fly an in an airplane but you can't go anywhere, you can't go on a bus or go in a restaurant” (Participant 2). I was recently booking a hotel for someone and was told that they're not going to take a guide dog (Participant 3). In addition, “there still seems to be a lot of misinformation with the Food Act. People not knowing whether they are allowed to have these dogs in the restaurant” (Participant 9).
While Participant 10 from the assistance dog service agency felt that the welfare of the dogs is the sole responsibility of the dog handler, most assistance dog users identified the seat arrangement/designs in some busses and trains as problematic for the welfare of dogs, as “if you're traveling on peak times and trains and buses that could be quite difficult because your dog can get their tail squashed and people my stand on their feet... I've always found it quite claustrophobic on the busses with a dog, they always seem to be in the way… maybe the solution would be to block off a seat”
(Participant 13) While dog handlers acknowledged that it was their responsibility to keep their dog safe” there’s not enough room to do that properly. I always put my hands down to make sure his feet and tail are not sticking out… the training doesn't really provide for keeping them safe” (Participant 13). Trains were regarded as a smooth and comfortable mode of transport compared to busses who are “not so smooth in terms of their driving…. they stop suddenly…it can be quite dangerous”
Theme 3: Advocating Welfare relates to future avenues when it comes to promoting welfare for assistance dogs in public transport. This theme relates to education and communication, consultation and participation, as well as key messages to overcome barriers identified during the research.
A lack of awareness was identified by interview participants throughout all interviews and across stakeholder groups. This included increasing awareness of the different kinds of assistance dogs in New Zealand beyond the well-known guide-dog brand. “I would like to see more advertising with dogs …not just the blind dogs. There’s a whole lot of other dogs: mobility dogs, and hearing dogs etc…I would (also) like to see you