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An appreciation: Beau, the guide dog who changed the Senate

This doesn't have much to do with technology -- well, anything, when it comes right down to it -- but it does have a government connection... and it is overdue… and I have a personal connection to this story…

Over the holiday, I read in the Washington Post about Beau, the yellow Lab guide dog, who the WP story describes as "an accidental activist for the rights of the disabled," who had to be be put down in early December.

Beau was owned by Moira Shea, who was a staffer for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and he will go down in the history books as the first ever guide dog to be allowed on the Senate floor.

From the WP:

Beau became a minor celebrity for a couple of days in 1997 when the Senate barred the visually impaired Shea, then a nuclear policy aide to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), from bringing the dog onto the Senate floor.

An objection had been raised -- anonymously at the time -- by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), a stickler for procedure. The Senate had no formal rule allowing guide dogs into its chamber.

It had, however, voted two years earlier to require Congress to live by the workplace rules it had imposed on other employers. Those include the Americans With Disabilities Act, which guarantees that workers with guide dogs can bring them to the office under most circumstances.

It soon became clear that any argument for excluding Beau from the chamber was a dog.

Wyden quickly introduced a resolution to allow disabled people to bring "supporting services," including dogs, onto the floor.

"A guide dog is a working dog, not a pet," Wyden said from the Senate floor. ". . . I had hoped that there would be no need to offer this resolution, but I am forced to because discrimination still persists here."

Shea reluctantly euthanized the 13-year-old guide dog in early December, ending his suffering from arthritis and breathing problems brought on by old age.

My personal connection: When I first moved to Washington, D.C. from New Hampshire, Shea was my landlord – I rented an English basement in her Woodley Park home. It was a period in my life when I could not own a pet and so Beau would often come down for visits. He was well cared for and well loved. He earns a deserved place in the history books.

Good speed Beau. Moira, our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Update: Here is a story about Beau's case from The Braille Monitor back when it happened.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Jan 12, 2006 at 12:15 PM


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