GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Service-dog bill is gaining traction in Virginia
BY CHELYEN DAVIS / THE FREE LANCE-STAR
RICHMOND-With little discussion and no dissent, a Senate committee Friday advanced a bill to broaden Virginia’s service dogs laws to ensure that they include dogs used to help those suffering from PTSD.
The bill comes from Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania. Lori O’Bry, with the Stafford SPCA, came to Richmond to urge its passage.
She said service dogs that help people with invisible injuries-like traumatic brain injuries or PTSD-are sometimes “not recognized or understood by an uninformed public.”
People with those dogs-like military veterans who use service dogs to help with anxiety or other problems-can encounter problems in public establishments, O’Bry said, from proprietors who don’t see what the person’s disability is.
Reeves’ bill changes the code’s definitions of who is eligible for service dogs, adding a reference to an “otherwise disabled person” which would mean “any person who has a physical, sensory, intellectual, developmental, or mental disability or a mental illness.”
He further defines service dog as meaning a dog trained to do work or tasks for “a mobility-impaired or otherwise disabled person.” Those tasks, the new language says, could include “nonviolent protection,” helping the person during a seizure, or “preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.”
Emotional support and comfort do not count, the language says.
Reeves and O’Bry both think the bill could raise public awareness of service dogs for disabilities like PTSD. It’s already raised Keith DeBlasio’s awareness. He didn’t know his own service dog wasn’t covered under current Virginia law.
DeBlasio, who lobbies in Richmond and happened to read Reeves’ bill, said he has a medical alert dog. He’s never been denied service with her in Virginia, he said, but he has in South Carolina and Georgia, where hotels refused to let him keep the dog in his room.
“I didn’t realize until I saw his bill that a medical alert dog is not covered in Virginia,” DeBlasio said. “The ADA and other laws are not clear.”
Reeves’ bill will go to the full Senate and, if it passes, to the House.