Advocates speak out against district’s service dog ban
By Jennifer Barrios and Carl MacGowan, Newsday Staff Writers
When Mike Steubing was in school, Max was always at his side. Steubing, 18, of Levittown, has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. Max is a golden retriever – and he does a lot more than fetch items for Steubing, whose symptoms have progressively worsened since he first joined up with the dog in sixth grade.
“He helped me with a lot of stuff,” Steubing said of his faithful friend, now semi-retired at 9 years old. “When I was able to walk, he would help me get up. He’d pull me around in the wheelchair.”
Steubing is one of some 10,000 to 12,000 Americans who use a service dog to help in their daily lives because of a disability. He’s among only a handful of people on Long Island to have used a dog in school, and among those, most have reported no problems.
In Farmingdale, a blind teacher has used a guide dog in the classroom for 14 years. In Levittown, two students and a teacher have used service dogs in the last 20 years. Complaints about service dogs barred from public facilities also are unusual. But that hasn’t been the case for John Cave, 14, of Westbury, who recently was barred by East Meadow School District officials from bringing his service dog to school.
Steubing said he was in disbelief over Cave’s case. When Steubing attended Jonas E. Salk Middle School in Levittown, the school even printed an ID card for his pooch. “Max the Dog,” it read, and featured the retriever’s photograph.
“I want to help him,” Steubing said of Cave. “It just makes me so mad. I don’t understand what kind of person would tell somebody they can’t bring their dog to school to help him.”
District versus family
The Cave case has drawn nationwide attention as the deaf boy’s parents and school officials debate the provisions of disabled-rights law. Federal and state laws say public facilities must not discriminate against people using service animals. But East Meadow officials say they have the right to block the dog because of health and safety concerns, and because Cave has full access to the educational program without his dog.