January 21, 2017
Members of the State Legislature
The Jonah Business Center
3001 E. Pershing Blvd.
Cheyenne, WY 82002
Dear Representative Dan Zwonitzer, Chair, House Corporations Committee:
The Mayor’s Council for People with Disabilities (MCPD) would like to lend its support to HB 114 regarding Service Dogs in its amended form. (Please see attachment).
We support the effort to reduce the number of individuals attempting to pass off a pet as a service animal, while protecting the rights of both the service animal and its owner. We also support the elimination of discrimination regarding the lease or rental of any residential property or place of lodging, or access to any public place of business. We do, however have some concerns regarding a lay person’s ability to identify an authentic service or support animal.
A service or support animal is considered an adapted device, aimed at providing its owner with the ability to remain self-sufficient or regain self-sufficiency by performing tasks which the person with a disability cannot perform; provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a disability; and aids in keeping the owner healthy with the ability to retain positive physical, emotional and psychological health. The determination of the need for a service animal is made by a licensed health professional and his/her patient.
Service animals, once identified as the stereotyped “seeing eye dog” have diversified along with the discoveries of the benefits of a service animal to a multitude of disabling conditions such as PTSD, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Seizure Disorders, Diabetes, Cerebral Palsy, spinal and joint conditions, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, and more.
A service or support animal is not limited to breed or size, as the medical professional and patient make a determination of the specific need and tasks required by a service animal. In addition, the training of the service or support animal may be by its owner or a professional trainer, based on the individual needs and tasks required. The service animal is trained to specifically deal with the individual health needs of its owner, which may not be easily identified by a lay person.
For instance, a service dog trained to assist a person with PTSD, will place itself between its owner and another individual as a buffer in order to protect the owner. The service dog may also determine that the situation or conversation is too confrontational and will tug at its harness or leash in order to remove the owner from the area. A seizure dog, which is typically a small breed, is frequently carried in a bag or carrier which is held next to the owner, in order to determine an eminent seizure onset. The service dog may bark as an alert to its owner that a medical emergency exists. Similar behaviors may be observed by a service dog trained to sense and smell a blood sugar emergency in a severe diabetic.
However, overt inappropriate behaviors such as roaming a lobby unleashed or unharnessed; wild barking at other animals or people; jumping up on people; or begging for scraps at the tables of other diners are not typical nor acceptable behaviors of a trained or in-training service animal. A service or support animal is not left alone in a motel room for long periods of time, because the owner needs the service/support the animal provides. Occasionally, if a meeting room or dining area has placed tables too close together for both the owner and service animal to maneuver, or if the restroom or other facilities will not accommodate the owner and service animal, the owner will elect to leave the service animal in the room or vehicle while the aforementioned activities are completed. A service animal will bark to alert others of an emergency regarding its owner.
It is important for lay persons to be cautious in making a determination on the validity of the service or support animal in their place of business. Just as adaptive devices such as wheelchairs have been improved, tailored and customized for different medical needs, so the breed and size of the service or support animal needed and recommended for individual medical needs has also been diversified.
According to the U.S. Census Fact Finder, there are 9413 disabled individuals (15% of the population) living in Cheyenne. That number is predicted to increase substantially by the year 2020, as age related disabilities such as mobility, vision and profound hearing loss increase. The need for service and support animals to medically assist those people will, in all probability, also increase.
We applaud the efforts of the members of the Wyoming State House of Representatives and Senators to protect the rights and dignity of service animals and their owners, as we work together to end discrimination of the disabled for a better and stronger Wyoming!
Patti Riesland, Chairman
The Mayor’s Council for People with Disabilities
Unspoken Crimes–Victims with Disabilities
This has happened to so many of us, you come home from a hard day's work and find your door or window broken, your possessions are gone, your privacy is compromised and your safety and security taken from you. You are angry, hurt, confused, stressed and perhaps scared. You can call the police and ask for help. You can call your insurance company. You can change the locks. A painful experience, but you can rebuild your confidence and possessions. You can rebuild a sense of security.
What if, though, your resources to rebuild are limited? You have a fixed and insufficient income; most of your money is spent meeting the basic needs-food, shelter and health. When you can afford a luxury, it is a prized possession. You do not take it for granted; you know how you struggled to get it. You try to take care of it and protect it. You know that it would take a long time to save enough to replace it, or you may want some other luxury item. What if that is taken from you?
Violence and crime against persons with disabilities occurs at a rate of more than twice that of non–disabled persons. The U.S. Department of Justice reported in Statistical Tables ranging from 2009 through 2014 that 36 per 1,000 people with disabilities were victimized compared to 14 per 1,000 of non-disabled persons. Other reports have higher rates of incidence. Twenty-one percent of all violent victimizations were towards people with disabilities. Children and people up to 24 years have higher rates of victimizations and the age group of 12-15 is almost three times higher than that age group without disabilities. Persons with cognitive disabilities have the highest victimization rate.
Unfortunately for the victims, most acts committed against them remain unreported. There are a variety of reasons for this, victims don't think they will be believed, they are worried that his or her ability to report will be questioned due to the disability or they are afraid of losing the relationship with the person(s) committing the crime. Reports of prevalence vary, but some studies show that up to 95% of the people committing the crime are known by the victim. Bill Norman reported in 2008 that 15% of those guilty of abuse are acquaintances or neighbors, 15–25% family members and 30% service providers. If Googling crimes against people with disabilities, the number of stories and articles referencing groups of people befriending persons with disabilities only to abuse them is horrific.
With the underreporting, it is difficult to accurately determine how many persons with disabilities are victims of crime; however, it is becoming clear that many of the reported crimes are a result of "hate crimes". Disablism is a term referring to a crime against a person with a disability because of the disability. In 2013, 24% of the violent crimes committed against persons with disabilities were believed to have occurred due to the victims having a disability.
On October 22, 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and on October 28 President Obama signed it into law. The Shepard/Byrd law expanded upon the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It is unfortunate that it took 8 years to enhance the 1969 act. In 2001 Representative John Conyers and Senator Ted Kennedy introduced the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2001, signed by 250 co–sponsors, which still died in the House and failed in the Senate. The Act was re–introduced in 2004, 2005 and 2007 before finally passing in 2009. In 2010 the constitutionality of the law was challenged and dismissed.
Unfortunately, crimes against persons with disabilities, including hate crimes against persons with disabilities exists in Wyoming and Cheyenne. We are not immune. Recently, robberies against people with developmental disabilities have occurred in Cheyenne. This is unacceptable and while no crimes should be tolerated by society, crimes targeting people with disabilities–the most vulnerable demographic of people, is beyond cruel.
It is up to us as good citizens to help keep our communities safe. Pay attention to your neighborhoods, especially if you know people with disabilities live close by. Get to know your neighbors or at least regular vehicles. Know basic routines of your neighbors, are they normally at work certain times of days? Are there normally cars there when the neighbor is at work? Let someone know if you see something unusual. Take care of each other, regardless of what demographic group a person is labeled with, it is the right thing to do!
Mary E. Richey
Howard A. Hill Sr.
Pete Laybourn Council Representative
Carole J. Martin
Betty Jean Pearson
MCPD Monthly Meeting
Laramie County Library