Yancy Baer, a disabled veteran, is fighting a new war, and it’s a battle on two fronts—discrimination and exploitation of current disability laws surrounding service dogs and their owners. Baer didn’t set out to expose fraudulent practices with service dogs; he only set out to expose discrimination after he started a campaign to expose problems with bringing his dog Beanz into a local Starbucks in Houston when he didn’t have paperwork to prove he had a disability.
“A gentleman who was pretty loud, pretty obnoxious, and humiliated me quite a bit as I tried coming into that facility,” he said.
At the time, Baer was wearing long pants, so no one could see his prosthetic leg. After that episode in February, he began an online project through Facebook and other channels designed to raise awareness about service dogs, called “You Don’t Know Beanz, where Beanz posts important information for people who have service dogs—and, even more important, for those who own businesses open to the public. As he heard stories from others like him, what Baer discovered was shocking.
Not only are many disabled Americans victims of discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but he also learned the discrimination may, in part, be caused by exploitation of a loophole in the act. You see, people with disabilities are not legally required to show paperwork or put a vest on service dogs to identify them, which has led some who are not disabled to claim a disability so that they can take their pets into public places.
Baer finds this practice highly disrespectful. “I had a German Shepherd before I had Beanz, and I would have loved to take him everywhere I went,” he says. “But I respected that there are people who need their animals out with them on a daily basis.”
These people who exploit the law often buy service dog vests from Internet sites willing to sell the products to anyone who wishes to buy them; the Canine Companions organization that put Baer and Beanz together has now created an online petition to advocate against this practice.
Meanwhile, Baer continues to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities to have their much-needed service animals at their sides. Currently a bill is on the floor of the Texas House which would allow police to cite organizations who deny service to service dogs and their owners up to $300.
House Bill 489, however, has yet to be passed, and Baer’s two-front war to stop discrimination and exploitation of the Americans with Disabilities Act involving service dogs continues to this day. He hopes that, through education and raising awareness, in the future such activities will no longer be a point of concern.
Baer has taken his campaign nationwide, appearing in news stories like the one below. If you have a service dog-discrimination story, please share it to help open more eyes to this widespread issue. By the way, Baer has established a Service Dog of the Month contest on his Facebook page, where you can enter your incredible canine companion!