Patti’s actions are an inspiration to us. To find out more about what she did in Arkansas, check out this outside article on her (we archived a pdf version in case their link breaks). In our interview below, Patti gives us the inside scoop on how to be an advocate for service dog users.
Why did you get involved with this service dog advocacy effort? Was there a specific problem you thought needed fixing?
Because the old state law only covered service dogs for the blind, deaf and “physically” disabled. The new law is worded more like the ADA and covers “all” types of disabilities now.
How did you go about things? Which people did you talk with, write, or call?
I started by talking to [Arkansas state] Senator Jason Rapert and trying to get him to understand when he first took office. The following year I spoke to Rep. Greg Leding of Fayetteville and he tried to get the current state law more up to date but the bill got mixed up with the ESA or comfort dogs for the courtrooms to help children because people seemed to not realize that they weren’t the same as a service dog. And then this year I contacted Rep. David Meeks, Stephen Meeks, Greg Leding, Douglas House (who covers where I live and is a retired Colonel) and Senator Jason Rapert (who represents where I live). I emailed all of them and also talked to Greg Leding, David Meeks and Jason Rapert through Facebook and in person as well.
What was needed from you to go through the process? Was it hard? Did it take a lot of time or persistence? Did you need to be an expert of some kind?
When Senator Rapert didn’t understand what I was saying at first I sent him a copy of the current state law and the ADA and told him to look at how the ADA covered all types of service dogs while our state law didn’t. I explained to him that the current state law didn’t cover service dogs for PTSD, mobility, autism, seizures, diabetes, cardiac alert, allergy alert and more. He realized I had a point after doing the research that he did.
I explained to him how my own service dog is a psychiatric and medical alert dog and the current state law didn’t cover me and because of that they weren’t covering those like me and more. Especially our veterans.
It took me three years of dedication and persistence to get something about this done to correct it. In fact Senator Rapert mentioned when I appeared in front of the Senate committee with him that he admired me for the persistence and dedication I have had at getting this done.
I didn’t have to be an expert. I just contacted the politicians explaining what was wrong and why it needed to be changed or improved and showed them why, by showing them the laws from other states as examples, and told them they could use them to help improve ours.
What is the specific result of your actions? In addition to that, has there been any unexpected benefit to going through the process? Do you have some useful contacts now, or do you feel like it improved you in some way?
The result of this is a rewriting of the current law to cover “all” types of service dogs. The benefits to this are now because it is a state law the local law enforcement can go about explaining the state law to the person who gives the handler a problem, and also the law officers can be educated on how to handle a situation that involved a service dog (as well as other emergency responders and local businesses).
Yes, the benefit to all of this is that it helps those who have the other types of service dogs that weren’t covered. Plus we use this to try and help people know more about service dogs and what types there are as well.
Yes, I have made a lot of friends through my efforts of getting this bill passed, not just with the local politicians, but also the Sheriff who has been a strong supporter of me as well as others I know in my community where I live. Yes I did improve it for me because now the service dogs for the “invisible disabilities” are covered as well when they weren’t.
What can other people do to advocate? Does everyone have to advocate the same way? Why should people advocate (if they should!)?
People can research their states laws and if they can’t find it, contact their state’s disability rights center. Ask if there is any kind of law for the disability they are concerned about and ask them to send them a copy of that law by email or mail so they have it. Contact your local politician and talk to them about getting something done when the next session starts or just before that.
Each person can have their own way of going about it. You can write letters, talk on the phone or in person, or go to one of the events they will be at and talk to them there. You don’t have to do it in the same way. Do it the way you feel most comfortable, for each person has their own preference.
The reason people should advocate is because if you don’t, nothing will ever get done about what you are wanting to be changed and improved or a law created for what you are pushing for. Until you speak out to your local politicians, nothing will be done about it. If they don’t do anything the first time, research what you are wanting to get changed and point that out to them the next time you communicate and just keep at it, even if it takes 3 years like it did for me.
Is there anything else readers should know about you, your dogs, or advocacy?
I have been a disability rights advocate for those with seizures, mental illnesses and service dogs because of me being diagnosed with seizures and mental illness and having had a service dog since 1999, long before Arkansas ever had a state law for service dogs, which I pushed to get created with Senator Gilbert Baker’s help. I try to suggest improvements for the disabled (I have friends who are blind and deaf), educate our first responders and more.
When you advocate try to go about it in a polite way and just explain why this needs to be created or changed and doing that would be a benefit to others who are disabled. I have suggested to restaurants to put braille signs on bathroom doors and to have a braille menu for the blind and someone who knows sign language for the deaf in case they come into the restaurants here just by suggesting it and the managers tell me thank you for the suggestions. So try to be nice and polite about it and don’t give up until you achieve it.
Izabella “Izzy” my service dog and Micah Russell my service dog in training are both opposite from each other when it comes to their personalities. They both help me and have made a huge difference in my life. I go out more, do things more, volunteer, and go and speak at events to help educate people more on service dogs. Having them has made a huge improvement in my life and I am very thankful for it.