If you see more cute and cuddly dogs in public buildings around Drumheller, don't touch them! These dogs are likely service dogs, thanks to a new initiative by the Alberta Government to increase the number of service dogs in Alberta.

John Wheelwright works on the Alberta Service Dog Assessment Team. He was in Drumheller on Feb. 8 to give a presentation at the Chamber of Commerce to inform businesses and the public about the changes to the regulation. The biggest change? A new assessment process for service dogs that lets owners train the dogs themselves instead of sending them to pricey accredited schools.

"Our Minister announced [the change] in April 2017," said Wheelwright. "We've gone ahead and identified suitable assessors to work in partnership with us across the province to assess owner-trained dogs to increase the supply of service dogs in the province."

Although Wheelwright didn't have a list of assessors available, he explained that the first step is to contact Service Dogs Alberta.

"They would contact us," explained Wheelwright. "We require some basic information before we set the assessment date. And then, we will refer the file to an assessor who would then contact the person in the Drumheller area and make arrangements to travel there for the assessment."

The main indicator of a service dog is its photo identification. In Canada, service animals are qualified and registered at the provincial level. Being able to determine the difference between a fake and real identification card is crucial for businesses, because there are fines associated with restricting a legitimate permit holder access to a building.

"We have authority under the Service Dogs Act to issue photo identification to qualified service dogs. So, any dog that comes from a certain set of schools or a dog that has passed our provincial assessment is entitled to receive protections of the Act."

Wheelwright was also on hand to explain business owners' rights and obligations surrounding service dogs. More information about the Service Dogs Act, including contact information, can be found on the Alberta Government's Service Dogs webpage.

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