Bill would protect service dogs

Thursday, June 23, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- During nearly two decades of using guide dogs, Jim Pelfrey hasn't experienced any big problems with his animals being harassed or attacked. Pelfrey is nonetheless grateful for the Missouri Legislature's approval of a bill to make such actions criminal.

"I have always been fortunate," Pelfrey said. "But among people I know it is a big concern."

Pelfrey, who recently moved to St. Louis from Cape Girardeau, is blind. He has had his current service dog, a Labrador-golden retriever mix named Opal, for three years. Pelfrey said having a guide dog is vital to his ability to easily function.

"To have that taken from me would be very limiting," he said.

The bill, which is awaiting action by Gov. Matt Blunt, makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly, intentionally or recklessly cause injury or death to a service dog. That includes failing to adequately control a pet that attacks a service dog. A violation is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

In addition to criminal penalties, the bill also allows owners whose service dogs are attacked to seek financial compensation in civil court to cover veterinary bills, replacement costs or other related expenses..

State Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, said providing a means of restitution is important because it costs between $30,000 and $60,000 to train a service dog.

"We want to make sure nobody can do damage to a dog without being penalized," said Deeken, the bill's sponsor.

The bill also makes it a misdemeanor punishable as much as 15 days in jail and a $300 fine to impersonate a disabled person for the purpose receiving accommodations for service dogs.

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