This week we got the good news that Florida will penalize people who falsely pass off their pets as service dogs. So, naturally, in order to keep the universe in balance, some bad news needed to surface. In what you might think of as a perfect storm of bad publicity, a New Jersey bus driver refused to let military veteran Daniel Wright on his vehicle because of Wright’s service animal — a Pit Bull named Tank.
Wright, who served four combat tours in the U.S. Marine Corps and Army, says Tank is a “daily need,” not a pet — which perfectly sums up how service animals should be seen by public facilities and businesses.
While serving in Iraq, Wright was injured by a roadside bomb, which resulted in nine surgeries to repair his arm. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Tank helps him with both problems.
“There were times I couldn’t even sleep with my wife because I was acting out in my sleep,” Wright told ABC News. “That’s actually why I have Tank. He wakes me up during night terrors, finding my medicine, he can go get my medicine.”
Tank does much more, as well: “He can actually push buttons for me, open and close the refrigerator; if I need meds, he can go get my medicine, he can actually get bottles of water out the refrigerator for me also. If I have a panic attack or an anxiety attack, he calms me down,” Wright told interviewers on Fox News this week.
But none of that mattered when Wright tried to get on the bus, even though Tank was wearing a vest that identified him as a service dog. All that mattered to the driver was that Tank was a Pit Bull. The driver said that the dog scared him, and that dogs weren’t allowed on the bus under any circumstances.
“I put my hand out, and people were getting on,” he told ABC. “Then when I went to get on, he slammed the door. … And I’m like, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ He’s like, ‘You can’t bring dogs on the bus.’ I said it’s my service dog, he’s like ‘I don’t care.'”‘
Wright has filed a formal complaint with New Jersey Transit, which says it’s investigating the matter and that the driver will be disciplined. However, it’s still a depressing incident because it shows how resilient so many myths about dogs are: Pit Bulls remain the Scary Breed because they’re thought of as the favorite breed of neo-Nazis and drug dealers. Service animals aren’t respected because of widespread ignorance about the needs of disabled people and because people have had bad experiences with fakes. Laws like the one in Florida will help with the last problem, but it’s clear that we have a long way to go with the others.
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