Waco teacher raising awareness on struggles faced as a service dog handler

Posted at 8:40 PM, Apr 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-12 23:03:35-04

WACO, Texas — Brian Neese has been a teacher in Waco for the last ten years. He loves his job but has recently been battling serious illness.

"I have stage four renal carcinoma and had my left kidney removed," Neese said.

"I had a grapefruit sized tumor in it and that spread to my lungs."

Neese said he also has severe neuropathy in his feet, which makes it hard to walk at times.

"I don't like getting around with a walker, so an option was a service dog," Neese said.

"That way because I am also diabetic, he can warn me about my low blood sugar — and he's already done that a couple of times."

He found his dog, Dexter, back in December. The dog is training to help him open doors, serve as a brace when he loses balance, assist if he falls, and so much more.

"I just love Dexter," Neese said.

"He's been a real help because I have so many different things health-wise, it's not just one thing."

Neese said in January he told his principal at Brazos High School the dog would be ready for him by the end of February. As the date approached, he said he got a confusing response from Waco ISD.

"They said 'no you cannot be at work with your service dog on February 26 because we have to approve you for an accommodation for your work,'" Neese recalled.

That approval process took about a month, including one week Neese said he had to take off unpaid before they agreed to let him work remote.

"They said 'well you can come to work but you can't bring your service dog'," Neese said.

"So I had to go all that week without any pay, and they justified it by saying 'well we allowed you to come to work but you chose not to come to work because we wouldn't allow your service dog.'"

While Neese is now back at work, he wanted to share his story in the hopes it will help other service dog handlers.

"They're there to help the person through life," Neese said.

"Workplaces need to be able to not accommodate the employee but accommodate the service dog."

"Some people just don't quite understand what you need," Disabilities Right Activist Pat Pound said.

Pound said there's still a lot people don't know about service dogs.

"There's just always things that people don't quite understand," Pound said.

"They may understand guide dogs better, but a lot of times they don't understand people with other disabilities, so they question people with non-apparent disabilities."

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs are allowed anywhere the public is allowed.

"You think of it like this: a dog is not allowed in an operating room, the public is not allowed in an operating room. The dog would be allowed in a waiting room because the public is allowed in the waiting room," Pound said

"Wherever the public is allowed to go, the dog is your accommodation."

If you see a service dog out in public, those animals are working and should not be distracted in anyway.

"Children, like at church, they even ask can we pet your dog? They expect a yes but I say 'no, thank you for asking but no. He's working right now you can't pet him,'" Neese said.

Some handlers do allow others to interact with their animals when they are not working, but it's best practice to ask before petting, feeding, or even talking to a service dog.

"It's always proper to ask to pet a service dog," Neese said.

"It's okay to ask, but expect a no. Don't be offended if a person says 'no don't touch him.'"

Waco ISD Asst. Superintendent of HR Dr. Daniel Lopez released the following statement:
"Requests for medical service animals by employees are uncommon. We care about our employees and work diligently to provide a thoughtful, thorough and timely resolution to accommodation requests."

He went on to say an accommodation committee reviews those requests and "determines that the request meets the criteria established by the ADA."