Animal Magic – Assistance dogs

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Assistance dogs


Patients, staff or visitors may have assistance dogs and it is particularly important to have good policies, arrangements and staff training in place. The role of guide dogs for blind people is now well-established and other sorts of assistance dogs (eg for deaf people, people with autism, people with dementia and mentally ill people) are becoming better known. The role that my support dog, Buddy, plays in helping me survive my mental illness was described in this article.

A crucial difference between assistance dogs and other dogs is that the relationship has legal protection. As Guide Dogs explain:

“Disabled people including guide dog owners and other blind or partially sighted people have important rights under the Equality Act 2010….. Hospital and medical professionals as service providers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people can access services. This includes amending a ‘no dogs’ policy to allow guide dogs and other assistance dogs.”

There’s lots of good advice on the Guide Dogs website, most of which also applies to assistance dogs for people with disabilities other than blindness. NHS Forth Valley also have some practical advice in their policy.

Religious and cultural considerations

As described in the Keeping humans happy, healthy and safe page, there are particular concerns for Muslims about contact with dogs. Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, the Assistant General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Great Britain talks in this excellent video about how Islamic law has been decided to be compatible with allowing members of the Muslim community to have guide dogs and even for the dogs to accompany them to (and be welcomed in) the mosque. Shaykh Mogra movingly talks about the compassionate nature of Islam and his hopes that other blind Muslims will be encouraged to have guide dogs to transform their lives. Astonishingly generously, the video ends with the phone number and email(!) of the trailblazing Imam who enabled the young man featured in the video to have a guide dog, for anyone who has questions about this. What a hero.

In terms of UK law, the Equality and Human Rights Commission say:

Religious grounds cannot be used to exclude guide dog and assistance dog owners. Religious or cultural beliefs can raise sensitive issues relating to dogs. However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission successfully reached agreement on this with a number of religious groups including the Muslim Shariat Council. “The Muslim Shariat Council have clarified that Muslims should accept assistance dogs in their businesses.” ‘Equality Act 2010 Services, public functions and associations: Statutory Code of Practice’ (EHRC, 2011) ‘Assistance dogs – A guide for all businesses’ (EHRC, 2013)

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