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Welfare provisions for assistance dogs in public transport 

Golden Labrador puppy training to be a guide dog

This research assessed the extent to which current laws, policies, and practices regarding access to public transport in New Zealand incorporate concerns regarding the wellbeing of assistance dogs. The work is based on the recognition of these animals as sentient beings with welfare needs that have been expressed in the 5 freedoms for animals promoted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA, 2012). To meet the aims of the project, and following a literature based review, 13 semi-structured interviews were conducted with stakeholders involved in public transport, including assistance dog handlers, assistance dog agencies, public transport providers and local government agencies in New Zealand. The three key themes that emerged describe (i) access and welfare provisions in current legislation and policies (From Theory to Best Practice), (ii) discrepancies between legislation and policy, existing barrier and variation in transportation service provider (Access and Welfare Experiences: Between Law and Best Practice) and (iii) outline future communication strategies based on consultation and participation, as well as key messages aimed to overcome the barriers identified during the research
(Promoting Welfare).

The report highlights gaps in the legislature regarding the welfare provisions afforded to service animals. Here, while legislation permits the presence of service animals within public spaces and places, including diverse forms of public transportation, there is a considerable gap regarding their welfare. Interpretation of the access legislature is largely up to individual transportation service providers, including whether or not additional provisions are made for the animals’ welfare in transit. The research project expands the attention of studies to date regarding access to public spaces for the disabled from a human-centric focus to one that also incorporates assessment of the wellbeing of assistance dogs. In doing so the study advances academic work and thinking in the field of disabled studies and has practical benefits for assistance dogs through the reassessment of policies and practices to ensure their wellbeing. Such a focus on the welfare of assistance dogs can only be beneficial for the handlers in terms of reducing concerns for their dogs’ wellbeing and potentially increasing the duration of the dogs’ working lives through a reduction in the stresses placed upon them. The results of the project have important implications for the future direction of disabled accessibility and welfare studies of assistance dogs travelling on public transport in New Zealand.

            To read the full report

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