Community Awareness of Assistance Dog Public Access Rights among Australian Adults

Tiffani J. Howell and Pauleen C. Bennett

Anthrozoology Research Group, School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University

Assistance dogs fill a wide variety of disability assistance roles. In many jurisdictions, assistance dogs have the legal right to enter public places with their handlers, including those that are typically off-limits to pet animals. Unfortunately, unlawful denial of access to these places is common, which may be due to lack of understanding about these access rights. The aim of this exploratory study was to determine awareness of assistance dog public access rights among the general population of Australian adults. An online survey was completed by 328 Australian residents, only six of whom had ever lived with an assistance dog. Analyses were primarily descriptive. About half (51%) worked in an environment in which occasional encounters with an assistance dog and handler team would be possible, but most participants reported rarely or never encountering an assistance dog in their community or workplace. Nonetheless, awareness of assistance dog public access rights was generally high, with nearly all participants aware that ‘pet dog’ is not a synonym for assistance dog, and that assistance dogs have the legal right to access shopping centres and public transport. Awareness was lower for limitations on these access rights, such as gatekeepers’ (i.e., people who determine whether a person enters their premises) right to ask for evidence that the dog is an assistance dog, and the right to deny access to a dog that is not well-controlled. Women had significantly higher knowledge about this topic than men, and age was positively correlated with knowledge, but both had weak effect sizes. Future educational campaigns should aim to increase awareness of assistance dogs’ legal rights and obligations, to reduce the likelihood of unlawful access denials in the future.

Keywords: service dog, disability, assistance animal, legal public access

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Keywords: assistance animal, disability, legal public access, service dog
Posted in Pre-Publication Articles