Debate aims to clarify what's a service dog and what's not

Debate aims to clarify what's a service dog and what's not

PORTLAND, Ore. – A proposed change in Oregon law would make it clearer what's a service dog and what's not.

If the Oregon bill becomes law, it would more closely match the changes in federal law when it comes to service animals. It would narrow the types of dogs allowed in places like grocery stores, boutiques and even apartments.

For someone like Patricia Kepler, who has been blind since she was 17 years old, a dog's not just a pet but a necessity. The increasing popularity of allowing dogs in stores and on MAX trains and buses, she says, puts her and her working guide dog, Nisha, at risk.

"My dog has been lunged at, especially in the MAX is the biggest problem," she said. "People bring their pet dogs on the MAX because there is no train operators in each of the cars and she's been lunged at and barked at. It's been an issue."

Kepler is hoping for the proposed change in Oregon law that would limit the types of service animals allowed on buses and trains, stores and restaurants, even hotels – basically, businesses open to the public. Only those trained to perform a specific task would be allowed in.

"I don't really think that's fair because I have a friend who has a dog and she can't bring her dog on the MAX and then she can't meet me at parks," said Jordan Aftanas about the proposed change.

Aftanas first said her dog, a miniature aussie that she had with her at Jamison Square in the Pearl District Friday, was a service dog but later said Eli was actually a companion dog designated as such by her doctor to help with her depression.

"For instance, I live in a building that doesn't normally allow animals and so if you have that doctor's note then you are able to have them," she said.

It's the kind of privilege Kepler says lawmakers ought to examine against those with disabilities, like her, and the working dogs they need to work and live.