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Missourians with service animals urge state lawmakers to give them more rights

February 25, 2003
By: Inigo Apalategui
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 317, SB 225

JEFFERSON CITY - Missourians who use service animals are urging state lawmakers to give them more rights of access for the animals that make it possible to function.

Donna Jacobs has epilepsy since she had a stroke in 1994. At the beginning, she found her problem hard to talk about.

"If I had a seizure in the street, people could think I was drunk or drugged," Jacobs said, "so I had to go with my husband everywhere." But now her dog alerts her when she's about to have a seizure. "My service animal helps me to have a normal life," she said.

Jacobs is the founder of Service Dogs Today, a non-profit that provides educational presentations about service dogs in Jefferson City. She said service animals save money in personal care attendance and "they can help disabled citizens not to become a financial burden for the state."

Jacobs represented her organization before a House Agriculture Committee meeting on Tuesday. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, and Rep. Trent Skaggs, D-North Kansas City, would establish the rights of people with service animals.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as those individually trained to work or perform tasks in benefit of their owners. They are not considered pets and, as a result, they can enter areas where pets are banned.

"We want to be more specific than ADA," Jacobs said. "And clarify what a service animal is, and the rights of disabled citizens and businesses, because people with invisible disabilities are suffering discrimination."

"We have to start thinking about service dogs as medical supplies instead of as animals," said Kirsten Richards, from Columbia. She has a brain problem and her dog tells her if she is missing her medication before she starts feeling bad.

The bill prohibits discrimination based on use of a service animal in housing, employment, transportation or public accommodations, as well as makes it a felony to attack a service animal.

On the other hand, the proposal also establishes penalties for people who misidentify their pets as service animals, and it makes owners of service animals responsible of their behavior.