By Frank Lewis: email@example.com Portsmouth Daily Times
A former Scioto County man has made history of sorts by being the inspiration behind a bill that is the first of it’s kind in the U.S. Ohio House Bill 121, sponsored by Representatives Michael Stinziano and Margaret Ann Ruhl, designated the last week of July as “Service Dog Awareness Week.”
House Bill 121 was inspired by Christopher Cooley and his service dog, Conrad. Cooley is a graduate of Portsmouth West High School. In January 2013, Christopher started the Guide Dog/Service Dog Night Out Group in an attempt to bring together Ohioans with disabilities and to help spread awareness about the importance of service dogs.
When Cooley, who now resides in Columbus, became legally blind, he got his first service dog and before long was running into resistance from people who do not know the law.
“Having people to deny me and try to force me out of their stores because they didn’t want my dog in that store kind of upset me a little bit,” Cooley told the Daily Times. “I sat down, thinking how can I educate folks and try to get them to understand what the law is. So I came up with the idea of the Service Dog Night Out Group where we could go out together, go different places and at the same time just educating folks.”
Cooley then went to Stinziano and that’s where it all began to come together.
“He said, ‘what about having a bill we could put into law to bring awareness for Ohio?’” Cooley said. “He said Ohio would be the first state to have a law like this and I’m like – ‘okay, cool.’ so we did it. It passed the House and it passed the Senate floor and it just felt so good to see the senators and the House Speaker sign that bill, knowing that it’s going to go to the governor and he signs it and after that it will be the law.”
Ruhl, cosponsor of the legislation applauded passage of the law.
“This piece of legislation simply recognizes the tremendous supporting role that service dogs have in the lives of people with disabilities,” Ruhl said. “Today’s action by the House will help raise awareness and education of service dogs for all Ohioans. Sometimes people, such as business owners, are not familiar with the laws permitting service animals and their hosts in public places. However, upon learning more about them, the barriers that were once in place start to be taken down. Clearly, education about this issue goes a long way toward affecting positive change.”
She said service dogs provide a wide range of helpful services to their owners, including detecting medical problems and allowing PTSD sufferers to reclaim their mobility.
Cooley witnessed the signing of the bill by House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger.
“It felt exciting,” Cooley said. “knowing that I was born and raised in Portsmouth on the west side.”
Cooley said service dogs provide a wide range of helpful services to their owners, including detecting medical problems and allowing PTSD sufferers to reclaim their mobility.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.