Canadian General Standards Board – Service Dog Team Standard
A Failed Process
Chapter 6: Moving Forward – Finding Some Wins with a Different Approach
In this final chapter, we will summarize the concerns we have covered in previous chapters. Then, in the interest of turning to a more positive tone, we will provide a very brief analysis of the original policy problem as we see it, and offer recommendations for how to find some “wins” with a different approach.
The goal we set ourselves at the beginning of this report was to mostly set aside the content of the draft service dog team standard, and instead to focus on the processes that were followed in its development. It was felt that this would help us to more deeply understand why the draft standard is so flawed.
The Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and its Committee on Service Dogs started with one mandate – to address issues related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) dogs – but quickly changed the scope to incorporate all guide dogs, hearing dogs, and service dogs in Canada. They ignored existing accreditation and standard-setting bodies in favour of developing a made-in-Canada solution. And on the PTSD front, they ignored significant developments and progress regarding PTSD dogs in the US, resulting in PTSD dog standards in Canada being delayed years longer than they needed to be, more veterans suffering longer, and more unaccredited trainers victimizing veterans and funders.
CGSB and its Committee on Service Dogs did not merely intend to develop a voluntary standard, as they have stated to the public; they intended to develop public policy that would become mandatory. In this effort, they failed to apply good public policy principles, failed to use good public policy processes, and did not develop any implementation plan. They ignored existing provincial laws and federal government initiatives; they strayed from statements made before a committee of Parliament, and ignored broad policy direction from the Prime Minister. They positioned their policy in a way that would violate the human rights of vulnerable Canadians. All this in an area where they have no legal jurisdiction, and without the participation of those who do hold responsibility.
The process that CGSB and the Committee on Service Dogs followed lacked transparency and accountability, and the Committee itself was constituted in a way that severely under-represents impacted people, and over-represents organizations and individuals who have potential conflicts of interest. To make matters worse, each committee member and all participants are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement that places the proceedings in a state of secrecy. Even now, advocates are reticent to meet with the Committee because their subsequent advocacy efforts would be hampered by the secrecy oath they are required to sign; thus, the Committee is working in an echo chamber of their own opinions, not hearing voices of dissent.
Is there any wonder that stakeholders have reacted negatively?
The Way Forward – A Problem Redefined
In looking for a positive path forward, we must return to the original problem that gave rise to all this activity. As mentioned earlier in this report, problem identification, definition, and analysis is at the heart of policy development. So, before offering recommendations for how to move ahead, we will provide a short beginning to a new problem analysis.
Returning to the specific issues presented to CGSB related to PTSD dogs, we see there are three related public policy problems that require different solutions.
Growing Demand in a New Field
A growing number of people who suffer from PTSD are realizing they can experience a better quality of life by having a specially-trained dog to assist them. This is a new and developing field, and experience in the US is showing good results, thus increasing the visibility of dogs as a potential aid for PTSD sufferers.
The growing demand in Canada led to a shortage of well-trained dogs from accredited training schools. This shortage had three results, each of which presents its own set of impacts. To meet the demand for PTSD dogs:
- Unaccredited trainers entered the industry,
- Unscrupulous trainers entered the industry, and
- People trained dogs themselves.
No doubt, the increased demand and emergence of unaccredited trainers also created organizational stresses among accredited schools.
Funders have played a major role in exacerbating the problem by not distinguishing between accredited and unaccredited training options, facilitating the growth of unacceptable dogs in the PTSD community, and moving badly-needed financial resources away from accredited organizations.
Contrast this with the history of guide dog training, where a process over many decades has seen schools almost universally choose accreditation as the path to quality, driven by discerning funders who have almost exclusively restricted funding to accredited schools. Further, users have been very careful in choosing almost exclusively accredited schools. In the case of guide dogs, accreditation equals success.
So, the policy problem is a question of how to support the growth of a successful industry that produces quality dogs so those with PTSD can achieve positive outcomes. How can accredited schools be better supported financially? How can unaccredited schools / trainers be moved into accreditation, and unscrupulous trainers be frozen out of the industry? For those dogs that continue to be trained by individuals or unaccredited trainers, how can users, funders, and the public be assured that they are going to fulfill their role successfully?
Public Access Concerns for a New Type of Dog / Handler Team
Relatively, there is good public awareness about guide dogs, and their rights and responsibilities for public access are legally entrenched. This is the result of decades of hard work conducted by schools, advocates, and individual blind people to educate and advocate for rights. Access rights for service dogs are not as mature, but jurisdictions are beginning to provide legal backing in this area as well.
With the burgeoning PTSD dog environment, handlers have an expectation that the same access rights as other service dogs and guide dogs will be provided. However, service dog access, being newer, is not as well-understood by the public as guide dog access. In addition, service dog organizations, advocates and users have not done the same amount of on-the-ground legwork as has occurred with guide dogs.
The proliferation of poorly-trained service dogs has created a backlash against public access rights. Making matters worse, those who claim that their pet provides them with needed emotional support are trying to claim public access rights. This undermines the acceptance of all legitimate guide dog and service dog users in the public arena and gives rise to the “fake dog” problem. How can the public effectively differentiate “fake dogs” from legitimate guide dogs and service dogs?
While there are generic public access issues, some industries present specific or acute issues. Such industries as food services (restaurants, bars), transportation (taxis, airlines, trains, buses) and accommodations (hotels, motels, bed and breakfast) have all been at the centre of access-denial concerns. There are some spaces where access denial arises because they sometimes claim to not be “public” – examples include schools, rental apartments, and hospitals. Often, members of these organizations or owners of these spaces claim that the rules and expectations for access rights are not clear.
Dog users diverge on the topic of carrying and showing identification cards. Some feel this is a reasonable expectation to prove they are legitimate users with the right to access public places with their dog, while others feel they ought to be free to travel in public without being asked for an identification card to show their dog is a legitimate guide dog or service dog.
In cases of access denial, there are often legal remedies, but these require processes that are financially or procedurally onerous, or otherwise not easily available to disabled individuals. Often, in Canadian jurisdictions, remedies rely on human rights complaints, which are neither timely, nor effective in addressing the underlying humiliation and stigma that results from a case of access denial. Police officers, who are usually the only authority figure available to a dog handler during an access denial dispute, are often uninformed in this area of law, as it is a low priority for them.
So, the public policy problem is a question of how to ensure public access for legitimate dog / handler teams while eliminating those who illegally claim access rights, and reducing instances where members of the public seek documentary evidence of the legitimacy of the team. How can access rights be made clear for both the public, and for those specific industries and spaces where problems most often arise? How can access rights be most effectively enforced?
Differences Across the Country
Canada is a federation where responsibility for the laws governing guide dogs and service dogs resides with the provinces. Dog users sometimes struggle when travelling across the country because the laws they have at home do not necessarily apply where they are visiting, and rules for how they may identify themselves as legitimate guide dog or service dog users are different, or might not be accepted in different provinces.
Some provinces have laws and regulations in place, while others rely on their respective human rights commissions or tribunals to adjudicate disputes. Some have had open and transparent policy development processes, while others have remained conspicuous by their lack of attention to public access issues.
So, the public policy problem is a question of making provinces aware of issues and concerns related to the guide dog and service dog problems described above, and actively and aggressively advocating for improved and consistent approaches across the country. How can the provinces best be brought together in this area of public policy that is important to a relatively small, but determined group of Canadians? What role can the Government of Canada play in bringing the provinces together?
A New Beginning for Problem Analysis
This forms the beginning of a thorough public problem analysis. Much more ought to be done to flesh out quantitative issues (how many guide dogs, service dogs, PTSD dogs are there in Canada by province? How many people are waiting for each type of dog? How many trainers are there who are within accredited environments versus unaccredited? Etc.). Much more needs to be done to document impacts. In short, reference should be made to the good public policy principles and processes that were described earlier in this report.
That all being said, the problems that are described above, in concert with the many issues with CGSB’s draft service dog team standard that we have identified throughout this report, are sufficient for us to make some important recommendations for getting onto a winning path.
While most of these recommendations are directed to government, there are also important aspects that are directed to users, advocates, trainers, and schools.
1. Stop the Current Process
The preponderance of evidence from this review shows that it is a failed process. Stakeholders have lost trust in both the process and the participants; no amount of fixing will win that trust back. So, the most effective first step to get back on the right track is to withdraw the draft standard and abandon the current process.
In government, it is often easier to let an existing process run its course, even if it becomes evident part way through that the results will not be useful – in the end, the results get buried in a report that is simply never actioned. However, in some cases it is important to take the more difficult decision, which is to actively stop a process in mid-stream, admitting that mistakes were made. This is one of those cases.
In the medical profession, there is the concept of primum non nocere – “first, do no harm”. The concept holds that an existing problem might be better left alone if the solution is going to cause more harm elsewhere. In the case of this standard development process, in the drive to solve a problem related to PTSD dogs, the approach that has been chosen will do significant harm to guide dog, hearing dog, and other service dog users across the country. Surely not a reasonable trade-off, and certainly a process that must be stopped now.
2. Introduce Accountability and Acquire Policy Development Expertise
Because stakeholders have lost faith in both the process and the participants, it is not possible for CGSB to continue to lead any efforts in this policy area. We have shown that they do not have the appropriate expertise to carry out human services policy development.
A decision must be made about which area of government is responsible to lead the policy process. The answer to this is not easy, nor clear. Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) seems to have the impetus to move forward, but the provinces hold jurisdiction, and the issue affects many more PTSD sufferers than just veterans. For this reason, to the extent the Government of Canada wants to move in this policy area, it is recommended that the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities (SPD) be given the lead role, with a firm mandate to involve VAC and the provinces at the outset and throughout the process.
The idea would be to appoint a lead minister who would be accountable for the policy process, recognizing that implementation responsibilities will shift to the appropriate jurisdictions once policy solutions have been developed.
Ensure there are clear reporting requirements to the Minister so progress can be monitored and reported to stakeholders and the public. The objective is to ensure that good policy development principles and processes are followed, the project is maintained within scope, and completed in a timely manner.
3. Introduce Transparency and Open Up the Process
Because of a lack of communication, many affected stakeholders are still unaware that this draft standard was developed and might have affected their lives. Whoever is accountable for the new process must be mandated to ensure it is open and transparent to all stakeholders.
Ensure users are in a strong position to influence policy outcomes. Ensure those who might experience cross-impacts or unintended consequences are engaged. Ensure existing accreditation organizations are represented (Assistance Dogs International, International Guide Dog Federation), so that existing accreditation and standards are used, rather than reinvented. Ensure there is open communication to all those in the public that are interested at every step of the process.
4. Create a Three-Pronged Approach to Reflect the Three Policy Problems
There will be different needs and different participants for developing a solution to the problems associated with addressing the growing demand in the new field of PTSD dogs, compared to ensuring access rights are addressed, and dealing with the variety of legal approaches across Canadian jurisdictions. It would not make sense to have one process try to address all these areas; however, by making all the processes accountable to the same minister, there should be assurance of a coherent policy response across all three areas.
It will be up to the those with policy development expertise within SPD to develop and oversee the three processes, but it would be recommended that stakeholder input be acquired in developing these solutions to ensure public buy-in for each process.
5. In Addressing Growing Demand for PTSD and Service Dogs, Seek to Regulate Industry, Not Individuals
The CGSB’s draft service dog team standard that requires assessments of every dog user in the country runs so far counter to the precepts of human rights that it is necessary that we make a specific recommendation against this idea being raised again. It comes from two factors: 1) unaccredited producers being in control of the standard development process, and 2) a lack of understanding of the policy problem. As we illustrate above, the problem is not users. The problem is unaccredited and unscrupulous trainers and a lack of funding for accredited schools. The solution lies in the industry, not with the users. The solution lies in a focus on accreditation for schools and their trainers.
For those who find that training their own dog is best for them, and thus there is no third-party accreditation to ensure quality, there are solutions already in place in some jurisdictions that provide for a provincially-mandated assessment that gives legitimacy for these dog / handler teams.
6. In Addressing Public Access Concerns, Build on Success
It is recommended that there be two areas of focus to enhance public access rights.
First, all governments, dog users, trainers, schools, advocates, and allies have a responsibility within their own spheres of influence to educate the public. Most importantly, it is the exercising of the personal responsibility of the user and their dog in every-day interactions with the public to always educate and always portray a positive image of the dog / handler team so that people learn to respect them, and the next handler who comes along can benefit from an improved reception. These rights are not simply handed out to a dog user for free – there are responsibilities that go with the rights.
Second, there are jurisdictions in Canada that already have successful legislation. Build on those approaches, rather than inventing new ones.
7. In Addressing Differences Across the Country, Strong Advocacy Will Win the Day
The Government of Canada can attempt to pull provinces together to address this policy issue, but stakeholders need to be realistic – this is not an area of significant concern in federal / provincial relations; there is some skepticism that federal / provincial discussions can have any impact here.
What will have an impact is the strong and coordinated advocacy from citizens at the provincial level. Consideration needs to be given to creating a coordinated advocacy effort whereby a coalition of users and their allies can work together towards ensuring legal protections are in place in every province, that those protections are as consistent as possible, and that each province recognizes dog / handler teams from other provinces without creating hurdles that must be surmounted by users.
For advocacy to be most effective, guide dog, hearing dog, service dog, and PTSD dog users need to work together and support each others’ efforts to further the provincial consistency agenda. There are currents of dissention within each of these groups and among them, and the more people work together towards a common goal, the less these tensions will rule the day.
Conclusion and Comments from the Author
Throughout the six installments of this report, I have done my best to use publicly available material to draw a clearer picture of what happened, and why the CGSB draft service dog team standard feels so wrong to so many people. The greatest tragedy in this whole affair is that it has resulted in delays for many people who desperately need the support of a service dog to help them address the issues they face from PTSD. The solution seems so clear and close, yet years have been lost in a failed process. I know that many from the dog-user community, regardless of their specific disabling condition, are ready and anxious to help move a new process forward. The sad reality is that a solid solution that focuses on building a sustainable, high-quality PTSD dog industry that focuses on quality outcomes for people is still years away, and the years wasted on this process could have been put to much more productive use.
Although my focus is in the area of guide dogs, I will continue to advocate on behalf of all dog users. Our goals should be to ensure a healthy accreditation-based industry, to develop and sustain funding streams that make sense and support quality outcomes rather than profit motives, to ensure laws are in place that support public access and help everyone distinguish fake dogs, and to help attain consistency across the country.
–James L Menzies