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There’s some big news in the Service Dog world! There’s a first-of-its-kind Service Dog Training Program available to zoos that will assist them with acclimating zoo animals to the presence of Service Dogs. If you don’t know why this is a big deal, then read on!

For the past year, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has worked with the National Association of Guide Dog Users to develop what will be a first-of-its-kind documentary that provides a detailed training program to acclimate a zoo’s wildlife to the presence of service dogs. Geared towards zoos and other zoological facilities, the training program will allow zoos who utilize it to allow increased accessibility for guests with Service Dogs.

Tampa Zoo Service Dog AccessCurrently, there are areas of many zoos where Service and Guide Dogs aren’t allowed, because of the undue stress it puts on the exotics and zoo animals. This program would provide zoos and zoological facilities to carefully acclimate their animals to the presence of working dogs and their gear, thereby decreasing stress.

This unique and groundbreaking program, piloted at Lowry Park Zoo, has already proven its ability to increase accessibility for guests with disabilities, especially those who are visually impaired, to parts of the zoo where Guide Dogs and other Assistance Dogs weren’t previously allowed. These areas include the giraffe feeding platform, three walk-through aviaries and a free-flight bird show.

Dr. Larry Killmar, Chief Zoological Officer, Senior Vice President, and Zoo Director at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, explains, “we aspire to be an unforgettable place of discovery for people to come together, which includes up-close engaging experiences with animals. We are proud that through this collaboration, we are able to significantly improve accessibility to those experiences for service dog users.”

To help the animals that reside at the Zoo acclimate to the presence of dogs, puppy raisers from the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, N.Y., worked together to dispel many of the myths surrounding the belief that the presence of dogs could upset the animals that reside at zoo and vice versa.

We are excited with the level of commitment to our civil rights we have experienced as we brought the challenges we face accessing zoos to those in a position to make a difference,” Says Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, a division of the National Federation of the blind.Tampa Zoo Service Dog Acclimation Project

Prior to the launch of this project, the Zoo had seven areas where service animals were restricted. Following a series of repetitive interactions over a period of several months, five of those areas have been released including the giraffe feeding platform, three walk-through aviaries and a free-flight bird show. Just two restricted areas remain including the Wallaby Walkabout exhibit, which allows close proximity to the small Australian marsupials, and the Expedition Africa safari tram which travels through a multiple species habitat yard.

Over the next several months, the Zoo will continue the process with new safari tram vehicles, and hopes to release this access in the future.

As a result of the efforts, a documentary was produced that followed the acclimation process in order to share the program with other Association of Zoos and Aquariums members. “We hope to share our training program with other zoological institutions to help other comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” added Killmar.

About Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is operated by the Lowry Park Zoological Society, an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization committed to excellence in education, conservation and research. The Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and is featured among the “Top 25 Zoos in the U.S” by TripAdvisor (2015) and “10 Best Zoos in the U.S.” by Trekaroo (2015). The Zoo is located at 1101 W. Sligh Avenue in Tampa, one mile west of I-275 (exit 48) and is open seven days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Parking is free. Visit www.LowryParkZoo.org or call (813) 935-8552 for information. Also find the Zoo on Facebook and Twitter.