Doors open for Hoover the assistance dog
AFTER months battling red-tape to get accreditation for his assistance dog, ex-soldier Ricky Lawson is now a welcome shopper at the Riverlink Centre in Ipswich.
The Pine Mountain man suffers anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder and has a labradoodle assistance dog to help him deal with his fear of crowds.
Until he took on the dog he had not been able to leave his home.
But the hurdles he has had to overcome to get appropriate accreditation for his dog prompted him to raise awareness of the process and access rights for guide, hearing and assistance dogs through the QT.
Shopping centres also have legal obligations to protect the safety of shoppers and handlers should display a Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs patch on the dog's jacket and carry an identity card featuring the logo.
Mr Lawson had trained his dog, Hoover, through a group that was not an approved trainer in Queensland, but then had his dog assessed by Canine Helpers which is recognised under Queensland law.
Although he had the blue and yellow Canine Helpers-branded coat for Hoover, he had been turned away from Riverlink shopping centre because he did not carry an identification card or display the badge.
The shopping centre has a duty of care to the thousands of shoppers who visit Riverlink and rightly couldn't give him approval to enter without the accreditation card.
After finally receiving the correct identification last week, Mr Lawson returned to the centre.
He said the opportunity to raise awareness of assistance dogs would help others who needed access for their dogs.
"The support from the local community has been unreal," he said. "There's been a lot of support; the number of people that come up to me on the street has been unbelievable.
"It's satisfying to have raised awareness for everyone else. I'm still doing the army thing and helping my mates and that's what it is all about.
"That's what I'm here with Hoover for. He's given me a life.
"I wouldn't be here at a shopping centre if it wasn't for Hoover."
Certified guide, hearing and assistance dogs can be almost any breed and may be wearing other badges or branding but must display this badge of certification.
The identification featuring the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs logo means that the dog can access all public areas, including restaurants, cafes, shops, cinemas, sporting and entertainment venues and all public transport.
The only exceptions are food preparation areas and some health facilities.
It's not an easy process and dogs certified under the Act must also undergo regular tests to ensure they are safe and remain effective.
Mr Lawson's labradoodle Hoover, which is 22 months old, will have to be reassessed in two years.
The training cost Mr Lawson $700 for a six month course.
Luckily Brisbane-based labradoodle breeder Rusty Amber kennels donated a dog for Mr Lawson.
Under Queensland's Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act, a person with a disability who relies on a certified assistance dog must have the same access rights as other members of the public and must not be segregated from other patrons or from their dog.