A violent incident at the midtown Walmart has raised questions in the community about laws regarding service dogs.
On Saturday, Anchorage police alleged 45-year-old David Pirtle of shooting 33-year-old Jason Mahi, store manager, in the abdomen after a dispute over Pirtle's service dog. Police said Mahi was taken to a local hospital and as of Sunday afternoon was listed in stable condition.
April Merchant, President of Midnight Sun Service Dogs says that even though there are laws in place, in order to prevent situations like the one that occurred yesterday something has to change.
“We need more education for people with service dogs and people without service dogs,” said Merchant. “Our laws need to be clearer for everybody to understand.”
The American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) says businesses must allow service dogs to go every place a human can go, and there is no law requiring a service dog to have a identifying marker, as long as it has a leash and a collar.
While the ADA does call for all service dogs to be on a leash when out in public, there is an exception. If a person with a disability cannot hold a leash because they don't have use of their arms or they have stability issues which could create an imbalance, they wouldn't be required to have their dog on a leash. Even so, the handler is required to keep their dog within 12-inches at all times.Merchant says businesses are allowed to ask a handler to leave the place of business if the dog poses a direct threat to the store, if the dog is being out of hand, barks too much or goes to the bathroom in the building.
“Dogs react differently when they get put in stressful situations,” said Merchant. “Whether they’re in crowds or yelling kids or walking through Wal-Mart, you don’t know what’s going to set that dog off.”
Despite the current laws, Merchant feels that we’re going to see a lot more instances like the one that happened in midtown Anchorage if something isn’t done to create laws that are clearer and more strict.
Contact Blake Essig