Every day when Wesley Taylor and his service dog leave the house, he prepares to go to battle with Mississauga transit employees.
He alleges MiWay bus drivers often deny him boarding, due to his four-legged friend, a Boxer who’s accompanied him everywhere for the last two years.
“If I’m riding the buses and I gotta take three buses, at least one of those buses will harass me about the dog,” he said.
The Mississauga man explains that Rocko is recognized by both the city’s animal services, and his physician, who wrote a letter explaining how the dog eases PTSD symptoms which stem from childhood abuse.
In a statement to CityNews, Director of Transit Geoff Marinoff said, “Service Animals are permitted on all MiWay buses as are pets. A Service Animal must be clearly identified; for example, a guide dog wearing a harness and/or vest.”
Taylor says he’s followed all the rules, and even has the paperwork to prove it.
“They say I’m not blind,” he said. “It’s just an argument most of the time to get on the bus.”
It’s cases like these that are raising concerns.
“I think it’s time our province has a good look and modernize the way we look at service dogs,” said Mike Harris, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga.
“Whenever the government is aware of this and sits on their hands, they’re just signaling to organizations that they don’t have to take this law seriously, and that slows progress on accessibility,” adds David Lepofsky, Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
CityNews has learned the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment & Infrastructure has few guidelines in place for service animals.
According to them, The Customer Standard does not require service animals to be certified, there are no training requirements for them, and the animals don’t require registration or ID cards.
The Ministry admits that any species or animal could technically be a service animal. That means a snake, a parrot or a cat could be considered a service pet.
Some critics say this leaves room for imposters to claim fake service animals.
“We’re now stooping to the lowest common denominator, when people stoop to that level,” said Harris.
The province does admit that more work needs to be done.
“Although we have made progress, there’s still a long way to go to reach our goal of becoming an accessible province,” a Ministry Spokesperson tells CityNews. “Making Ontario accessible will require all Ontarians to work together towards our shared goal.”
Taylor says he hopes both the city of Mississauga and the Ministry do more to educate people about service dogs.