Manitobans confused over lack of service animal regulations

Michelle McGhee and her service dog Jewels.
Michelle McGhee and her service dog Jewels. Amber McGuckin/Global News

When you think of a service dog a teacup chihuahua might not come to mind, but one Winnipeg woman feels it helps her cope with anxiety and depression.

“She’s here when I need her, she licks my tears if I cry, she’s my best friend,” Michelle McGhee said.

She got the eight pound pup Jewels one year ago, changing McGhee’s life after a workplace injury.

“She’s changed my life dramatically,” McGhee said. “I don’t know where I would be at this time if I didn’t have her.”

But McGhee said she’s been having problems the past seven months getting into Walmart.

“Every time I pass an employee, they stop me. There was one time I was there they asked me eight times in ten minutes.”

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READ MORE: Pets & Pals: The training of a service dog

Walmart Canada is reaching out to McGhee for more information about her complaints, but part of the problem is there are no provincial regulations or certifications for what makes a service animal.

Isha Khan from The Manitoba Human Rights Commission said over the past five years she has been getting more and more calls and questions about service animals.

“The traditional use of the guide dog has expanded a little bit so open your mind to you may have someone who doesn’t present themselves as someone who might need an animal for some kind of assistance or their disability, but maybe they are,” she said.

READ MORE: Manitoba expert warns: service dogs are not pets, they are working animals

Khan said the HRC defines a service animal by what it does for people.

“We rely on the human rights code that has a definition of a service animal and that’s an animal trained to provide assistance to the person with their disability,” she said.

Many people like McGhee rely on bringing a doctor’s note with them to prove they need the service animal.

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“I have four different letters from my doctor saying that jewels is part of my recovery and my care. She also has a patch that says service dog, do not separate dog from me,” she said.

But that brings up another grey area — the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba told Global News there are no guidelines or regulations for doctors writing these notes.