Pestering or harassing service animals could soon be illegal in Connecticut.
According to published reports, people who rely on service animals to help them engage in the daily activities most of us take for granted have pushed for the legislation now being considered by Connecticut lawmakers.
Unfortunately, Bristol resident Christine Elkins recently shared with some Connecticut legislators and the media, many people just don’t respect boundaries when it comes to interacting with service animals and their handlers. Requests to refrain from approaching or petting the animals usually go unheeded, she says. Some people are ignorant… and others are rude, Elkins adds.
For Elkins, it is no laughing matter. As the Associated Press reports, she has “balance and mobility problems.” In her case, the potential ramifications of a fall caused by someone distracting her service dog are frightening.
The current Connecticut law
Current Connecticut law only prohibits other dog owners from allowing their dogs to interact with service animals. Section 22-364b, Control of dogs in proximity to guide dogs, stipulates:
“The owner or keeper of a dog shall restrain and control such dog on a leash when such dog is not on the property of its owner or keeper and is in proximity to a blind, deaf or mobility impaired person accompanied by his guide dog, provided the guide dog is in the direct custody of such blind, deaf or mobility impaired person, is wearing a harness or an orange-colored leash and collar which makes it readily-identifiable as a guide dog and is licensed in accordance with section 22-345.”
A violation of section 22-364b is an infraction. However, the law also stipulates that an owner whose failure to control their dog results in an attack on and injury to the guide dog is liable for “any damage done to such guide dog…” Specifically, the owner is liable for:
- Vet bills (for treatment and “rehabilitation)
- The cost of a new guide dog, if necessary
- “Reasonable” attorney’s fees
Under the proposed law, any person who deliberately interferes with a service animal would be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor. The maximum punishment would be three months in prison.
Bill does not prohibit ‘friendly’ interactions
In response to concerns raised by some of their colleagues, Connecticut lawmakers recently changed language in the bill to reflect that it is “only targeting any person who “intentionally interferes” with the service animal’s duties.”
The bill is currently pending review by the House of Representatives.
For information about existing laws in other states, click here.