‘She saved my life’: Service dog handlers to gain improved access through new law

Kevin Johnson is a former police officer who was prescribed a service dog to overcome his injuries and "start living again". NS Department of Justice

Nova Scotia will soon have a new law in place that will protect service-dog handlers across the province.

“The biggest thing is the fact that the dogs have got to be quality trained and certified,” said Kevin Johnson, a former Halifax Regional Police officer who was given a service dog in 2016. “A service dog is not a pet. They do more than that. They are a medical appliance, just the same as a wheelchair or a cane.”

“I have both physical injuries and severe PTSD. I was a police officer injured in the line of duty in a forest fire that turned into a wildfire. Maggie was issued to me through the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, through their service dog first responder program,” Johnson said.

Maggie is a prescribed service dog who aids a former police officer living with PTSD and other physical injuries. NS Department of Justice

The Service Dog Act officially comes into effect on June 27 after taking two years to reach enactment.

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“It’s unfortunate that it obviously takes time to get these things done, but hopefully in doing so, that time allows for quality,” Johnson said.

Nova Scotia Minister of Justice Mark Furey says there were several reasons behind the delay.

“There was a significant amount of stakeholder engagement that took place. I think the election of 2017 had an impact on the timing. It’s just this past spring that the regulations have been able to be brought forward,” Minister Furey said.

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The new legislation will allow access to public places for all accredited service dogs and will help diminish the number of dogs that get coined as service dogs without proper authorization.

“We have a lot of problems right across North America with people who are putting vests on their pets and calling them service dogs,” Johnson said. “Calling them an emotional support animal, or a therapy dog. A service dog is totally different. A service dog needs to be highly trained, has no aggression and is allowed to be in the public access.”

It’s taken two-years for the provincial government to enact a new law that aims to protect service dogs and their handlers across the province. NS Department of Justice

Minister Furey adds that the legislation will also clarify confusion for businesses who may have previously been hesitant about allowing access to their facilities for service dogs and their handlers.

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“Many service dogs were being denied access to facilities, restaurants and accommodations, in the absence of an ID card. So the Service Dog Act creates legislation, a certification process for the dog and the issuance of an ID card,” Minister Furey said.

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