Assistance dogs need protection

Make a submission today to prevent assistance dog fraud.

Quick Action: Go to the NZ Parliament website and make a submission to support the Bill, with a recommendation that the Dog Control Act 1996 is amended to make it an offence to impersonate an assistance dog.

In January 2019, I had the privilege to presenting my report ” No animal left behind: A report on animal inclusive emergency management law reform” at Parliament with the support for Gareth Hughes MP and former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. The report has been hailed one of the most comprehensive reviews of animal disaster management law undertaken in the world to date, and made many recommendations to create animal-inclusive resilient communities.

One of issues was the purporting of companion animals (pet dogs in this case) as bona-fide disability assistance dogs, particularly in disaster evacuations. Even within Australia (my new home), impersonating a disability assistance dog is illegal in only two States (North Territory and ACT). In my earlier research (2011), the lack of clear identification for disability assistance dogs was found to be an issue in the New Zealand Emergency Management sector, with a case during the Christchurch Earthquake highlighting the need for a standardised identification system.

While I was the Chair of the National Welfare Coordination Group (a statutory committee established under Civil Defence Emergency Management arrangements), in partnership with the Office of Disability Issues, NZ Institute of Animal Management, Department of Internal Affairs (Dog Control Policy) and ACC, a new national disability assistance dog tag with the Civil Defence logo was produced. By having the Civil Defence logo on it, it provided some legal protection as only those that are authorised by civil defence may use the logo. Those using the Civil Defence logo without permission are subject to a fine of up to $300 under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Regulations 2003. However, the tag is not compulsory for disability assistance dogs to wear meaning it remains difficult for the public to determine what dogs are genuine disability assistance dogs, from pet dogs whose owners have have just purchased “service dog” jackets and other apparel online.

Thanks to Ricardo Menéndez March MP, who is leading a members bill in Parliament to improve the legislation around disability assistance dogs, all types of bona-fide assistance dogs will hopefully be recognised equally to guide dogs under the Human Rights Act 1993. This was a key recommendation in the report (page 15) presented to Parliament and I am glad to see this now be considered.

The only deficiency, but a critical one is to ensure the intended purpose of the Bill is fully enabled with the creation of an offence under the Dog Control Act 1996 that makes it illegal to impersonate a disability assist dog:

New section: 75A Impersonation of disability assist dog (new)
A person commits an offence who intentionally personates or falsely represents or identifies their dog to be a disability assist dog (and add to Schedule 1: Infringeable Offences). For the purposes of this act, any use of a similar term such as service dog shall also be considered as personating a
disability assistance dog.

The protection of bona-fide assistance dogs will be much easier from a compliance perspective, if local authority Dog Control Officers have the ability to issue infringement notices for assistance dog fraud, rather than relying on potential discrimination remedies through the Human Rights Tribunal.

While amendments are taking place, it also is recommended that another section is added to the Dog Control Act 1996 to provide for other identification options such as the new Hapai Access Card.

New section: 75B Identification of disability assist dogs (new)
The Minister may gazette a form of identification to identify disability assist dogs, in consultation with certifying organisations at that time

I would like you to help protect the legitimacy of disability assistance dogs in New Zealand, by making a submission on the Bill.

Make a submission through the NZ Parliament Website and give them your feedback. If you would like to cut and paste, or edit to suit your own thoughts, please feel free to use the below text.

  1. I support the Bill to ensure all Disability Assistance Dogs are given the same protections as Guide Dogs; and,
  2. I recommend the Bill also makes amendments to the Dog Control Act 1996, to make it an offence to impersonate a Disability Assistance Dog; and,
  3. I recommend the Bill provides the power to the Minister to gazette a form of identification for Disability Assistance Dogs.

Submissions close 10 November 2021.

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