It is that time again, when we all do our civic duty and participate in the democratic system. That’s right: It is nearly voting day. However, if you have a service dog, you may need to take some extra time to plan your day at the polls. Many states allow voting by mail or even early voting. Still, many people wait until voting day to cast their ballots. That means lines might be long and your assistance animal will need extra care. Here are some things to consider when planning how to make a service dog do its best work when you go to the polls.
Know Where You Are Headed
Every county has different designated polling places, usually centrally located depending on your address. Be sure to know exactly where you are headed on voting day, especially if you have moved recently. Your local election board will be able to provide you with the right location, or you can usually check online. Your day will be much longer if you go to the wrong place initially.
Understand Your Rights
If you have a service dog partner, you obviously already know how to register for a service dog and all the ADA laws that protect you and your animal. People who are working in the polling place also should have been trained to know that service animals are allowed in polling places as well as in the actual voting booth. If anyone objects to you bringing your partner into the space, be prepared to explain the laws allowing its entry.
Be Ready for Crowds
Polling places may be swamped with people, depending on how many different locations your county provides. If you have an anxiety disorder or other condition that can make crowds difficult, be prepared with medication or other supports. Your service dog – who has been trained to work in crowds – will provide a calming influence.
Be Prepared to Wait
Lines at voting stations may be sparse or they could be quite long. Many people have told tales of waiting in line for hours in order to vote. If you get a short line, that’s great. But you should be prepared for a wait of at least an hour. Make sure your service dog gets a chance to go to the bathroom before you enter the polling station, and consider bringing water and a small dish just in case. While in line, make sure your partner is sitting or lying in a compact position that doesn’t protrude into the walkway. You don’t want the dog to be blocking traffic in a crowded room.
Keep Your Partner Tidy
Some people with a service companion prefer to have them don vests or other gear. The advantage is that you have a visual indication of their status as a service animal. The downside is that people often like to hug or pet the animal without permission. Regardless of whether you choose to bring your service partner out in public with gear or just a harness, make sure the dog is well groomed and looking sharp. Give the dog a good brushing before you go out so it doesn’t shed all over the polling place floor. Clean its vest and maybe even pamper it with a bath. After all, it is a big day!
Voting is a civil right that carries a lot of importance, and having your service companion by your side can make the experience less stressful. If you want to learn more about how to make a dog into a service dog, you can visit the ADA website or check out the United States Service Dog Registry.