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Canine Trauma

Is Hawaii Dogging Access for Blind's Guides?

Cheree Heppe

UPDATE: A few days after the article below was published, a settlement was filed in the U.S. District Court that allows visually impaired Hawaii residents -- as well as blind visitors to the islands -- bypass the quarantine as long as their guide dogs are pre-certified and vaccinated against rabies.

As a dog guide owner, I am very interested in furthering the efforts to secure unrestricted access to Hawaii for blind people who use dog guides. However, there may be some misinterpretation as to how The Americans With Disabilities Act and other American civil rights legislation impacts the drafting and implementation of these proposed regulations.

A lawsuit has been brought against the state of Hawaii by various plaintifs who believe Hawaii's quarantine for dog guides violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These include Vernon Crowder, Linda Cote, Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI) and the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.

Over the years, numerous people have worked long and hard and have invested extensively toward achieving unrestricted access to Hawaii for blind people accompanied by their dog guides. In an unprecedented act of cooperation and support, most of the members of The Council of U.S. Dog guide Schools contributed funds totalling approximately thirty five thousand dollars toward the legal fund to help pay for the Hawaii lawsuit.

Hawaii's Board of agriculture is being given the power to add to the list of "approved providers." It is no doubt an oversight that some U.S. dog guide schools not members of the U.S. Council of Dog Guide Schools, privately trained and owner trained dog guides, service dogs and dog guides trained in Canada, Europe, South Africa, and Japan are presently missing from the list. Neither the Australian-based Lady Nell "Seeing Eye" School nor The British Guide Dogs Association of the UK are mentioned. Under the proposed new standards, the status for the Royal Guide Dogs of Australia and Royal Guide Dog Foundation of New Zealand remain unchanged.

The ADA predicates its standards on a function or performance base rather than an institutionalized base. The ADA does not require organizational labeling but does require the guide or service dog to be actually mitigating the disability of the owner. There are many competent, even exceptional dog guides and providers represented amung those presently overlooked by the proposed regulations. To pass these regulations in their current form violates the ADA.

For purposes of certifying their applicants as legally blind, the U.S. dog guide providers are tertiary agencies dependent upon a physician's report. Any blind person wishing documentation of blindness may visit an opthalmologist and obtain a report certifying they meet the legal definition of blindness. Any legally blind person could submit such a report as a valid determination of blindness to a reviewing entity. A person who is not legally blind could not pass as blind to an opthalmologist for purposes of getting such a certifying report.

It is disquieting that these proposed regulations require blind visitors to Hawaii who use dog guides to stay in pre-selected, pre-approved lodgings. Do requirements of this nature juxtapose with American civil rights law?

Dog guides are selected for and taught to be non-reactive to other animals. Their training schools them not to initiate contact with other animals, however, the dog guide is not taught to avoid other animals in the same way it would avoid an on-coming vehicle. A dog guide won't see an approaching animal, cross to the other side of the street and head in the opposite direction. The dog guide is expected to ignore and pass by other animals. Consistent with their status as valuable, highly educated working guides, pet owners need to be respectful of the dog's working status and keep their pets from interfering with or harming the dog guide team. It would not be realistic to expect a blind person to look around and avoid what they cannot see.

Some fear that the large unvaccinated reservoir populations of domestic dogs, cats and wild mongooses in Hawaii may contract rabies from incoming dog guides and spread rabies all over the islands. It would not be in the best interest of dog guide owners to encourage fraternization with other animals such as dogs and cats while working because the safe performance of the team would be jeopardized. It also seems highly unlikely any blind visitor would resort to beating the hybiscus in search of mongooses.

The recent reduction of Hawaii's general quarantine from four months to thirty days came about after a long campaign by the U.S. Army which wanted more immediate access for its military service dogs. While the Army prefers the newer FAVN test, Australia and New Zealand require the older and more tested RFFIT titer. Both tests show whether a dog has developed antibodies to the rabies vaccine. According to veterinary sources, vaccination and how the dog's immune system reacts to it is what affects the titer of antibodies in the blood of the tested dog. The name of the trainer or length of the dog's training has no effect on antibody levels in the dog's bloodstream.

Access to rabies vaccinations are routinely available to anyone through a licensed veterinarian. Owner trained dog guides as well as dog guides coming from providers whether in or out of the U.S. will have to have rabies vaccinations to get dog's licenses, health certificates and other documentation.

There has never been a documented case of dog guides carrying or disseminating rabies. The thirty day quarantine requirements, as well as the proposed regulations look for results of the titer test of 0.5 international units. These tests are available through a special laboratory at Kansas State University and (for military personnel only) The Department of Defense Veterinary Laboratory at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Any dog guide owner should be able to procure the services of the specially designated labs with veterinary submission of an appropriate sample.

While U.S. dog guide providers generally tatoo their puppies or adult dogs for identification purposes, they do not generally implant graduating dog guides with microchips. Dog guide providers do offer blind graduates ink print information on how they may have their own dogs microchipped.

Schearing Plough, the developers of the "Home Again" microchip have a toll free number and 24-hour registry for calling about dogs located with their microchips. They give special consideration to guide and service dogs and some programs offer free microchipping. Microchip documentation is specific and readily available to anyone. Foreign dog guide providers have had access to microchipping for some time.

The proposed third titer test required upon arival in Hawaii is excessive and impractical in its application. Veterinary sources report that the FAVN titration test requires careful attention to its preparation and execution and has to be done by hand and not run through an automated process. It is unclear whether natural fluctuations or laboratory error could significantly affect results so as to cause the blind traveler's dog guide to fail this third test and thereby deprive the blind person of a vital means of mobility. Animals that do not meet the new standards will be required to spend four months in quarantine on the island of Oahu.

It is difficult to imagine the freedom that a superbly trained dog guide offers to a blind person. For almost thirty years, both my program-trained and owner-trained dog guides have safely guided me independently on the job, during international travel, through major metropolitan areas throughout the United States, kept me safe from danger such as two instances of downed power lines, guided me to recreational activities such as hiking and visits to amusement parks, plays and concerts. It goes without saying that my dog guides have smoothed the way even when doing mundane, ordinary errands. We've even gone on the wild side by riding in hot air baloons and Ferris Wheels.

The access to get about independently with the aid of an educated dog guide is a right the ADA guarantees. It has become part of our American tradition of freedom and equality. Many dedicated and hard working predecessors, blind and sighted worked tirelessly to open the doors of the workplace, education, the arts and travel to people who happened to be blind and choose to travel with a dog guide. It is reassuring that this spirit is still alive and that the state of Hawaii may soon become truly accessible to everyone.

Considering all the long years of effort and hard work it has taken to make these gains, it would benefit everyone for the proposed regulations to take effect within the framework of American civil rights law.

Some Proposed Rules for Admittance of Dog Guides into Hawaii

  • Proposed Rule 1. The guide dog must have graduated from an approved guide dog school including the Royal Guide Dogs of Australia, Royal Guide Dog Foundation of New Zealand and members of the Council of United States Dog Guide Schools.
  • Proposed Rule 2. An unlimited number of guide dog teams can go to an approved Hawaii hotel of which there will be many in the modest and higher price ranges.
  • Proposed Rule 3. The number of dogs allowed at pre-approved private residences may be limited to twenty-five.
  • Proposed Rule 4. While in Hawaii, the guide dog team is allowed to freely travel anywhere it wishes, so long as it avoids contact with other animals except other guide dogs.
  • Proposed Rule 5. The guide dog must be currently vaccinated for rabies.
  • Proposed Rule 6. Prior to arrival, the guide dog must have had two OIEFAVN titer tests of at least 0.5 international units. That last test within two years prior to travel. The two tests must have been taken at least thirty days apart. The tests can only be conducted by the laboratories at Kansas State University or Fort Sam Houston.
  • Proposed Rule 7. The guide dog must have an implanted microchip readable by an AVID scanner.
  • Proposed Rule 8. On arrival the guide dog must have blood drawn for a third rabies titer test and a physical exam at the Honolulu International Airport at the state's expense.
  • Proposed Rule 9. A health certificate describing the guide dog must be provided and show that the dog was treated with an insecticide for parasites within 14 days of arrival, is free of disease, etc.
  • Proposed Rule 10. If the guide dog remains in Hawaii after thirty days, it must have another physical examination.


General Statutes of Connecticut, revised to Jan. 1., 1997, Page 177, Vol. #1, Chapter 1, Sec. 1-1S(a), State of Connecticut, 1997, "Definition of Legal Blindness."

Guide Dog Users, Inc., "List of Guide Dog Training Schools in the United States."

Lopez, Tarsis, "Changes Take Effect in Hawaii," Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, October 1, 1997, Vol. #211, No. 7 Page 817

Stanley, Jenine, "President's Message," Pawtracks, Winter, 1997, Vol. 23, No. 4, Pub. by Guide Dog Users, Inc.

Stanley, Jenine and Michael A. Lilly, Esquire, "Hawaii quarantine Case Preliminarily Settled," Pawtracks, Winter, 1997, Vol. 23, No. 4 Pub. by Guide Dog Users, Inc.

Rupp, Walter H., "Der Blindenhund: die Neue Ausbildungsmethode mit 60 Fotos und 101 Zeichnungen, Einfuehrung von Urs Ocksenbein," Albert Miller Verlag, Ruschlikon-Zurich, Stutgart, Vien: Page 245 - 285

Copyright 1998 by Cheree Heppe; no reproduction of any kind without the express permission of the author.

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