Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Deaf Boy and His Dog – Together Again?

Hello! I would like to introduce myself as a new blogger to this site. My name is Diane Petillo, and I am attorney in charge of the Civil Trial Division at the Law Offices of Anthony J. Colleluori (a/k/a “That Lawyer Dude”). Tony asked me for my thoughts on a recent case that you may have heard of in East Meadow, New York. I’m sure by now that you have all heard about John Cave, Jr. and his quest to bring his companion dog, Simba, to school with him.

John is now 14 years old, and he has been deaf since early childhood, and has struggled his whole life to be able to function in society like everyone else. Unfortunately, for someone who is profoundly deaf and has difficulty speaking, this is no easy task. Even having cochlear implants inserted in both ears did not fully solve the problem.

He recently became eligible for a service dog. He was required to pass the ADI Public Access test in order to qualify. After passing the test, he received Simba, a two-year old Labrador retriever, who would be his “ears” for the future. This was made possible only through grants from various individuals and organizations.

Now that John’s his life, arguably, should be a little easier, along comes the East Meadow (NY) School District to throw a wrench in the works.

Before I give you my thoughts on this case, I feel in the interests of fairness and full disclosure, I must tell you of my personal bias towards the abilities of Labrador Retrievers. I am known on my block as the proud “mother” of a 2-year old yellow Labrador Retriever named Kirby, who may very well be a human trapped in a cute, furry puppy suit. Kirby has figured out for himself how to open doorknobs (sometimes to our chagrin…like to time he let himself out of the house). He also treats the ice dispenser on the refrigerator door as “self-serve” although no such sign was ever formally posted. (If this grosses you out, bring your own cubes to my house[yes, we do clean it…OFTEN]).

As someone who has seen first-hand, with constant wonderment, the abilities of Labradors and how they interact so humanly with people, I truly understand his mother’s concerns that John needs to “connect” with Simba throughout the day in order to fully bond with Simba. Labradors, when left to sulk for the morning and afternoon, are not as in tune with their “people.” They thrive on human interaction, and, conversely, when such interaction is withheld for long intervals, they can lose their skills that are not regularly being reinforced. They can even become resentful of the lack of attention. (How would you feel if someone said, “be right back” and came back 8-10 hours later, and then did this again to you for 5 out of every 7 days?). If John and Simba aren’t permitted to bond, Simba will become a very expensive, and under-used assistance dog.

After all, even though Simba is a working dog, he is still just 14 year old (2 dog years = 14 human years) with boundless energy and a need to connect with John Jr. so that they may bond and function as one.

John Jr. is the most important human in Simba’s life as a working dog; John Jr. is the person to whom Simba must be unquestionable loyal. Their relationship and trust must build to the point that, if Simba were his secret service agent, he would be willing to take a bullet for John Jr.

As a volunteer at Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, a non-profit horseback riding program dedicated to teaching horseback riding to individuals with special needs, I have seen the magic that results when a child and a trained animal work together therapeutically.
They are united in their common goal of making the student’s life better on a physical and, often more importantly, on an emotional level.

Yes, no question, John, Jr. could get by on a daily basis without Simba. But should he have to? If you lost your eyeglasses or a contact lens, perhaps you’d find your way home, but that doesn’t mean that your corrective lenses are not effective in making your day easier. You could squint your way through this blog, but it may take 3 times as long. Even if just once Simba catches an auditory signal that John wouldn’t have picked up on, would that make a difference in his life?

We live in a world where people justify buying cell phones for their children to bring to school in the name of safety. Are you telling me that a service dog that is well behaved is more of a distraction in school than text messaging? Why then, are we so critical of a parent wanting extra protection for their children who legally are entitled to this assistance? Even Judge Arthur Spatt noted in his courtroom that Simba was nothing but quiet during the entire court proceeding. In Judge Spatt’s own words "The dog is in this room and seems not to have bothered anyone so far…what is the harm of this boy bringing the dog? What seems to be the problem?”

There is no question that rules must be enforced regarding hygiene, safety and proper etiquette. Simba can even be a teaching tool at a general assembly for the entire school. Children should learn the rules for interacting with the deaf community, in the event they encounter a deaf person in the outside world. All of us could stand to be reminded of how to (or, in most cases, not to) interact with a service dog. Such a dog is not a “pet.”

Simba is not to be teased. He is not a plaything, but an integral part of the life of a deaf person. The school should have no more tolerance for the interference with Simba than they would for kicking the crutch out from under a child with special needs.

I don’t know how the Court will decide....but I know what I would do if I were in a position to do so. The job of a school is to encourage children in their scholastic endeavors to foster independence, and humanity. How then can the school justify calling the police on John, Jr. and his parents because they had the nerve to come to school with a service dog? Shouldn’t they instead be doing everything in their power to make his life easier? If certain “protocols” must be followed, then why isn’t a school representative or a guidance counselor assigned to help the family get through those protocols?

But hey, that’s just my opinion. Stay tuned for the court’s ruling.


Kathy Podgers said...

Nice post. I am amazed at the ignorance of so many about the issue of PWD's acompianied by service dogs. You are right, the issue or standard should not be is it necessary or "required," as even the blind are not required to have guide dogs nor white canes. Folks who use walkers or canes, do not always use them.

I also agree with you that the school should see this a an opportunity.

I dislike the way the school is using/abusing kids with allergies against others with disabilities. For myself I support inclusive policies, not divide and exclude the loser!

Anonymous said...

I'm a student in high school and I definitely agree with this post. Most students in school can handle dealing with a dog. Those that aren't mature enough should just be punished for it.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

I like the point that the school can use this as a teaching opportunity. This far, they have failed miserably at this with their strong arm tactics and divisive actions. They are teaching exactly what NOT to do. Children with special needs should not be made to feel as though they are wearing a scarlet letter.

The school's taunting argument is just ludicrous. I love your analogy that interefering with Simba is tantamount to kicking out the crutch from a child with a physical disability, and should be punished accordingly.

I also agree with Kathy Podgers comment about pitting those with allergies against those with special needs. It is shameful that the school is using this as justification for its position.

Schools are full of allergens, from dust, pollen & ragweed, to colognes and perfumes.

If someone has an allergic problem beyond the usual standard deviations, then that child has a serious health condition and must be prepared to encounter such allergens on a daily basis.

They should carry with them medicines or, in severe cases epi pens. What's to say that a child with allergies wouldn't encounter a dog on their walk home from school?
If a child had such a rare condition, then what parent would let the child out of the house without adequate safeguards against a possible encounter?

That Lawyer Dude said...

Well done Diane!
The fact is that school's have a unnerving fear of lawsuits. The fear of Simba in the administrative headquarters of the East Meadow school district is that this helpful and protective animal will take a bite out of some kid and then the district will get sued. Though highly unlikely, I think the district could protect itself by either getting an extra insurance policy or by the legislature specifically passing a law to forbid suing a district if a service dog bites a child.

Valannin said...

Talk about a rich bouillabaisse of logical fallacies. First, just because you own a Lab and it does sweet human things doesn't mean that ALL Labs have the same temperament. Also, being the owner of a Lab does not make you an expert on the breed's behavior. Then, equating a service dog for a deaf person to an eyeglass wearer is patently ridiculous. Without contacts, I can't see. Even with the dog, the child is still deaf. A dog cannot (and I don't care how well trained the animal is) use sign language to alert the child to anything. And it's not like the dog can bark to warn the kid - the kid's deaf, remember? You state that even if "once" the dog catches an auditory signal that may "make a difference" in his life. Using your logic, if my glasses only work one time out of a million, they would still be worth the cost. Again, patently false.
Don't get me wrong, handicapped people need to be able to use special tools in order to make their lives tolerable, but in this case, it would be up to the student's lawyers to prove that a partially deaf student (meaning that he can in fact hear)would benefit from the service dog in the first place. And it is in my humble opinion that he would not, and this entire lawsuit comes from the frustrations of his greedy, opportunistic parents.

Kathy Podgers said...

My response to Valanin is basic, and I observe a simplistic ignorance of the main issue.

First of all, a person with a disability is handicapped by the barriers s/he faces. The barriers that, in this case, the school has imposed, and should remove.

There are 3 kinds of barriers, architectural, like stairs for folks who use wheelchairs; barriers in the general environment, like no dogs allowed signs, policies; and attirudinal barriers. Under title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1990, public law 101-336, otherwise known as the ADA, the City, school, is required to provide programs, services and benifits without discrimination based on disability.

What that means is that if the school is not ventillated properly to allow for both folks with allergies and folks accompianied by their service dogs, then an alternative facility should be found. The school is not required, like a private business, to bring the building into compliance, but to make dure no one is excluded based on disability.

The problem I see here is folks with allergies believe that they should get to decide who is allowed into the school. That is not what the law says.

Cave, if he has a disability as defined by the ADA, must be allowed to be accompianied by his service dog anywhere other members of the public go. It is not about the dog, it is about Cave.

As for the analagy, many folks are legally blind, and can see quite "well" except they cannot drive and usually cannot read. Do you believe that because they are not totally blind they should be denied the use of a guide dog?

Frankly, it seems this City/school has failed to address the issue of how to accomodate people with disabilities into their programs and as a result made a mistake, based on their ignorance of the law, and probabale 'belief" that this kid who showed up with a service dog was "trying something." That is really too bad, and at least the police in this story knew the law.

Anonymous said...

Mute issue Judge Spatt did not rule in favor of this INJUNCTION (not a criminal trail as it was headlined). I'm glad as hell you don't sit on a bench as you are way too bias to sit in fair judgement of the facts to the point of being blind to the law (I know I know justice is blind and all but she doesn't have to be stupid as well)
FYI individuals who have respiratory illnesses are covered under the ADA as well are are thankfully afforded protection too.

That Lawyer Dude said...

Again I am not bias. I am also asthmatic and have been all of my life. I have stated what the Justice Department which is in charge of enforcing the law has said on the issue. I am also not judging the law. If I were I think I would have come out differently on it that Judge Spatt did.
I too am glad that I am not presently a judge... I can't afford it.

Mike said...

I currently live in Jackson Heights with a hearing ear dog at school as a teacher. In the beginning, the school also was concerned with children who might have allergies, but after reviewing the medical files of students....very few were found to have any related to dogs. After nearly five months...I have had NO problems related to allergies, etc. with students.

I am considering obtaining another hearing ear dog for my son, who is also deaf. As you can ascertain, I am watching this case closely.

An interesting point to consider...with the number of people who have dogs and cats, many of them covered with their hairs on their clothes and coats...isn't it amazing that no one seem to have allergic reactions in subways, elevators, and other close spaces???

MOST people who have asthmatic allergies related to dogs and cats generally do not get a reaction unless they physically hold such animals or are in a very small space for an EXTENDED period of time.

The law is the law...and I'm sure the law does not include age restrictions, etc. for accommodations. Another point to make....WHY is it okay for a blind person to have a seeing eye dog?? Who decides that disabilities can be "different" and therefore can make laws an exception for discrimination??

I hope the ruling comes soon.

Anonymous said...

You have expained the benefit for the dog, but what is the benefit to the boy? If it is for companionship, the dog will just keep him from making friends with his school mates. Service dogs for the blind, actually have a job, such as leading the blind person from place to place and making sure he doesn't fall down the stairs. etc. What will this dog do at school?

Dogs have been waiting for their masters to return home for centuries. Dogs have no concept of the passage of time. That's why they greet you as a long lost friend, even if you just came back in from getting the mail. If he spends quality time with the dog when he gets home, the dog will be just as happy (maybe happier than spending all day sitting under a desk).

I am allergic to dogs with dander (dogs that shed instead of matting) which includes the retrievers. If I were in the same class room as the dog, I could have a serious asthma attack. Does that mean that I would be the one who has to change rooms or would the boy have to change? If I rotated to a room the dog had been in, would someone clean out the hair before I went in? Just what are the logistics for a service dog that really doesn't perform any service? Should the school system (and tax payer) be forced to pay additional expense for cleaning, insurance, etc, because this family made a mistake by getting a service dog for their boy?

Service dogs are highly trained and are expensive to train. They do a heck of a lot more than just keep someone company. I have known many deaf people, none of whom needed a service dog. Perhaps this family could donate the dog to someone who really needs it and get their kid a pet.

Mike said...

WOW...lots of narrow minded people here who don't look beyond the actuality.

Dogs DO know sign language. It's a signal of any sort they can use to communicate. My dog paws at me to alert me...that's communication. My dogs stops/stares at a source of sound...that's communication to inform of something that I might have missed because of my deafness (birds, bugs, people, etc.).

I've had hearing dogs for over 25 years now with my third dog. I have NEVER encountered anyone with complaints about dander, allergies, etc. No different from any other source...pollen, dust, name it. It's just an excuse.

The one benefit to the boy or any such person with a dog is socialization. I have met more friends and people because of my dog. It attracts them. Being deaf...the socialization IS IMPORTANT!!!

Like anything have to be IN our shoes to truly understand. Most folks who complain and are not deaf, blind, or handicapped in any way....truly are blind themselves to fully understanding ALL of the possibilities that is offered to all involved.

It's not just about the's about LIFE. Why do people try so hard to limit it???

Anonymous said...

My husband is Deaf and we are considering an assistance dog. He will be teaching in a public school. What was the virdict on this case? I need to know for refrence.

Mike said...

YES....I would like to know, too. It's been awhile. I have moved away from the NYC area to Texas.

I am AMAZED at the differences in attitude here with my hearing ear dog. NO ONE questions why I have a dog that I encountered there in NYC, at work, etc. At the school I work, I don't even have to have the leash though I do anyway. It's incredible.

So it's all about attitude and acceptance. The school district there has an attitude and they are not very accepting as I have learned.

Hope someone helps this story get back on track and updated. I will appreciate it. :o)

Assamed Human said...

As Stated
Yes, no question, John, Jr. could get by on a daily basis without Simba. But should he have to? And yes a paraplegic can get by without his/her wheelchair. But should they have to? The dog is an extension of the person just like a wheelchair is or a pair of glasses are. These things; wheelchairs, glasses and service animals, all help the disabled to be on a equal playing field as it should be. I guess monkeys for quadriplegia and agoraphobia, guide miniature horses, a goat for muscular dystrophy, parrots for psychosis and any number of animals for anxiety, including cats, ferrets, pigs, at least one iguana and a duck are also not let into the school. It is a shame that peoples fears and discrimination are backed by ignorance.