Thanks to a first-of-its-kind service dog training program, Lowry Park Zoo is leading the industry in making exhibits more accessible to guests with service animals.
The program got its start about two years ago when Lowry Park Zoo recognized the need for zoos and aquariums to be more accessible to guests with disabilities, especially those who are visually impaired. Dr. Larry Killmar, Chief Zoological Officer at Lowry Park Zoo partnered with several groups, including the National Association of Guide Dog Users, to launch a pilot program to desensitize the animals that reside at the zoo to the presence of service dogs.
Inviting service animals into a zoo presents a unique set of challenges, including concerns that the presence of service animals could upset the animals that reside at Lowry Park Zoo or vice versa. For nearly a year, the National Association of Guide dog Users and zoo staff, along with puppy raisers from Sun Coast Puppy Raisers, the program dispelled many of these myths.
The desensitization included a series of repetitive interactions over a period of several months in areas of the Zoo that were restricted to service dogs, including the aviaries where birds are free to roam. The goal was to make service dogs and zoo animals comfortable with each other and gauge any negative interactions or potential limitations, which never occurred.
In fact, the results of the program were overwhelmingly positive. In one case, a guide dog and giraffe touched noses on the giraffe feeding platform after only a few minutes of interaction.
When the program began, Lowry Park Zoo had seven areas where service animals were restricted, including the giraffe feeding platform. Now they have only one – an area in which visitors have close contact with wallabies. The Zoo is also working to make the tram accessible to service animals over the next few months.
We are proud to continue expanding access to the zoo for all of our guests. Stay tuned for additional updates on this program.