They are as despicable as able-bodied people who park in places reserved for those with disabilities.
On these two issues, Mr. Norton, my service animal who was trained to never bark or bite, and I agree. He keeps saying with his big brown eyes: “Let me at ‘em Jer, let me at ‘em.”
Mr. Norton, my beautiful brown-eyed Golden Retriever-Labrador mix, became my constant companion and helpmate more than seven years ago when my wife, JoAnn, and I picked him up at Paws with a Cause in Wayland near Grand Rapids.
It would have cost $18,000 to buy Mr. Norton but he was given to me by the nonprofit. Mr. Norton (I call him Mr. out of respect) underwent two years of training before we worked together for 10 months with trainers to become a certified team so he could pull me as I sit in my wheelchair.
He can also pick up anything I drop from the size of a credit card to a TV remote. He can bring me the phone, take off my shoes, pants, and cover my feet up with blankets in bed. He opens doors and keeps an eye on me whether he is in his “service dog” uniform or not. One time, in fact, he scared off a guy who was going to rob me in a parking lot by just staring the fellow down.
We’ve only been questioned once about being together in public.
To prove Mr. Norton and I are a certified service team, I pulled out my photo identification given to me by the organization that trained us. It shows a picture of Mr. Norton sitting next to me in my wheelchair. It says “Norton Trained for Jerry Wolffe.” On the back of the license, it says: “United States Federal Law” and quotes the ADA saying Mr. Norton and I have “access to all public places and commercial centers under Federal Law.” If we are denied admittance to any public place, I can call the Justice Department at (800) 514-0301 and file a complaint or sue the entity that denied us service for discrimination in federal court.
To stop bogus service teams, my opinion is any dog/human service team should have photo ID just like Mr. Norton and I have had since we got my pal from Mike Sapp Sr., the executive director of Paws. Dogs that are not as well trained as Mr. Norton hurt my rights if that animal urinates or causes a commotion in a place of public accommodation.
And having a well-trained dog such as Mr. Norton at my side makes me safer and more capaable, thanks to his muscles. And when I die I expect to see Mr. Norton at St. Peter’s gate wagging his tail as I walk into Heaven to be with my silent four-legged angel.
Jerry Wolffe is the Advocate-at-Large/Writer-in-Residence at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586 263-8950.