Current Events Update: Should Guide Dogs go to Zoos?

Charli Saltzman

It was a cool autumn morning as our van pulled up in front of the zoo. As my cousin got out and walked toward the zoo, they told her she was not allowed to bring her dog in. We were all surprised. Why couldn’t she bring her guide dog with her? Instead, she had to leave him in an office while she explored the zoo with the rest of us.

Recently, Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users stated that a law has been passed requiring zoos to allow access to all service dogs into the zoo. This includes not only well-trained service animals but also those in the process of being trained as an assistance dog. Before this law, zoos were not required to allow guide dogs into zoos. One reason for this is because of the zoo animals. For example, how would those animals react to guide dogs, and how would guide dogs react to them? Also, are there possible diseases that either the guide dog or zoo animal could catch from one another? However, this law requires that zoos are accessible to both guide dog owners and their dogs.

I am happy that the National Association of Guide Dog Users are able to help in this process of making zoos accessible to guide dogs, but I guess I would have a couple of questions. Should guide dogs really go to the zoo? If I’m honest, I’m not sure I would take my guide dog to the zoo. I think, if I was going to go with my family to the zoo, I would probably just take my cane. Now you might ask me, why is this? Well, I’ll tell you. I just wonder if my dog would be safe. Obviously, zoo animals are kept behind very secure fences, but what about my dog? Is he going to act up, get excited when he sees that bear? Or, what about if we are walking next to the petting zoo? It is true that my dog is trained professionally. He is well-behaved out in public, but he is still a dog, and how is a normal dog going to react in this situation? What if he was extremely distracted? This could make our traveling through the zoo unsafe for both me and him.

Maybe this is my own personal preference. I definitely understand why guide dog users want to be able to take their dog to the zoo. Visiting the zoo is a fun activity. Spending the day with your family and friends, visiting the animals, brings about a very pleasant day. It makes sense to want a guide dog to be part of that. I definitely believe guide dogs should be allowed everywhere. The choice should be left up to the guide dog owner and no one else.

Why then do zoo keepers feel it is okay to exclude guide dogs from entering zoos? What does service animal laws say about it? Let’s take a look at their reasoning. A law states that a public place such as a zoo can prohibit a service dog from entering if the service dog poses a threat and/or risk to others including people and wild animals. Zoos can prohibit service dogs from specific parts of the zoo. However, any public walkway is open for any service animal. Taronga Zoo has banned assistance dogs due to quarantine risk. Because of this law, a boy with autism and his family had a miserable time at the zoo because the assistance dog Penny was being held in the ticket booth. The little boy was experiencing major separation anxiety due to the fact that his assistance dog was not with him. The mother of this young boy was working on getting the zoo to allow access to assistance dogs.

It seems to me that zoos are not really giving adequate reasons as to why they do not allow assistance dogs into zoos. They base their reasoning on the laws and assume an assistance dog will pose a threat to the wild animals. However, is that a risk I am willing to take? How about you? If pets were allowed into zoos, would you take your pet?

Below are some sources for you to consider.

http://m.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/macarthur/assistance-dog-for-child-with-autism-barred-from-taronga-zoo-due-to-quarantine-risk/story-fngr8h70-1227015292646

http://www.azleg.state.az.us/ars/11/01024.htm

https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm14/bm1410/bm141009.htm

Some zoos do allow service animals.

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/visit/parkrules.cfm

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