First-of-its-kind Service Dog Training Program Leading Industry in Acclimating Zoo Animals to the Presence of Service Dogs.
For more than a year, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has worked in partnership with the National Association of Guide Dog Users to acclimate the zoo’s wildlife to the presence of service dogs in order to increase accessibility for guests with disabilities, especially those who are visually impaired. The result of the collaboration is a first-of-its-kind documentary designed to provide a step-by-step training program for zoological facilities across the country.
“At Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, we aspire to be an unforgettable place of discovery for people to come together, which includes up-close engaging experiences with animals. We are proud that through this collaboration, we are able to significantly improve accessibility to those experiences for service dog users,” said Dr. Larry Killmar, Chief Zoological Officer, Senior Vice President, and Zoo Director.
The overall goal of the project was to make service dogs and zoo animals comfortable with each other and gauge the possibility of any negative interactions or potential limitations. The results were remarkable according to Killmar. Guests with a disability accompanied by a service animal will now be able to experience nearly every area at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.
To help the animals that reside at the Zoo acclimate to the presence of dogs, puppy raisers from the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, N.Y., worked together to dispel many of the myths surrounding the belief that the presence of dogs could upset the animals that reside at zoo and vice versa.
We are excited with the level of commitment to our civil rights we have experienced as we brought the challenges we face accessing zoos to those in a position to make a difference,” Says Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, a division of the National Federation of the blind.
Prior to the launch of this project, the Zoo had seven areas where service animals were restricted. Following a series of repetitive interactions over a period of several months, five of those areas have been released including the giraffe feeding platform, three walk-through aviaries and a free-flight bird show. Just two restricted areas remain including the Wallaby Walkabout exhibit, which allows close proximity to the small Australian marsupials, and the Expedition Africa safari tram which travels through a multiple species habitat yard.
Over the next several months, the Zoo will continue the process with new safari tram vehicles, and hopes to release this access in the future.
As a result of the efforts, a documentary was produced that followed the acclimation process in order to share the program with other Association of Zoos and Aquariums members. “We hope to share our training program with other zoological institutions to help other comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” added Killmar.