Carter, Corbin and the Law

Carter and CorbinDespite continued resistance from his school district, the Illinois courts are telling Carter Kalbfleisch he should be able to go to school with his dog, his service dog, Corbin.

Carter is autistic and his mother, Melissa Kalbfleisch, says Corbin is "trained to perform tasks for [his] benefit".  Under Illinois law, "[s]ervice animals such as guide dogs, signal dogs[,] or any other animal individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a student with a disability shall be permitted to accompany that student at all school functions, whether in or outside the classroom." 105 ILCS 5/14-6.02

Their doctors recommended the service dog for Carter.

Carter’s autism is severe. The Illinois appellate court noted in its Dec. 16, 2009 opinion that, according to his mother,

"Carter was diagnosed with medium-to-severe autism at 18 months of age. …Carter was prone to having tantrums on a daily basis; he suffered from an eating disorder called pica, a pattern of eating nonfood materials; he would refuse to walk when he was taken to public places; he sporadically would take off running; he could not fall asleep on his own and, once asleep, woke up approximately every hour; he did not communicate with anyone; and he was unable to focus.

…Carter’s tantrums involved kicking, screaming, and biting, often occurred at dinner and would last approximately one hour, and also occurred in the morning at least three times per week and would last approximately two hours. …[B]ecause of Carter’s eating disorder he had tried to eat such items as rocks, mulch, grass, trash, cleaning supplies, batteries, and coins and had drunk from the toilet. She indicated that when the family would take Carter to public places, such as parks, stores, and restaurants, Carter would throw himself down on the ground and refuse to walk. As a result, Carter’s family was unable to take him to public places, and the family was homebound.

… Carter had a tendency to sporadically take off running, sometimes into a pond near their house  or into a nearby road with traffic, that Carter would not fall asleep on his own and would wake up about every hour, and that because of this, she had to sleep in his bed with him for the previous two years. [His mother] said that if she did leave his room after he had fallen asleep, she would lock his bedroom door to give her more time to respond if Carter woke up and tried to leave the room. On one occasion, however, she was not able to respond quickly enough, and Carter was able to get out of the home and into the pond in the middle of winter.

…Carter did not communicate with other students on his own and that he did not speak any meaningful words but would mumble different sounds. …[G]etting Carter to focus as almost impossible. …[H]e stated he would distract himself by self-stimulation, or stimming, with his hands or other objects, and would stare off into the distance when people tried to communicate with him."

Carter with Corbin 

Corbin is highly trained to deal with Carter’s particular problems. "Corbin was trained to understand 70 commands and was specifically trained for Carter’s pica, impulse running, night awakenings, and tantrums." The dog was trained by an agency that provides service dogs for people with neurological disorders. Both of Carter’s parents are in the process of becoming certified dog handlers who will be qualified to train others to handle Corbin.

Carter’s mother described  "that after having Corbin for a month or so, Carter was a much happier child;  that his tantrums have minimized to a couple per week and his recovery time has been reduced to minutes, compared to the half hour to hour it used to take to reconcile the situation; that Corbin will physically take Carter down if he takes off running into a dangerous situation, like into traffic, and as a result, Carter does not try running for the road anymore; that by the third night of training, Carter was able to sleep without his mother in the room because Corbin would calm him when he woke up; that Corbin draws Carter out of his stimming by batting him with his nose, which allows Carter to focus more; that the family was able to take Carter to Six Flags without incident and on a weekend vacation to Mark Twain Lake; and that on the second-to-last day of training, Carter, for the first time in his life, used meaningful words when he told Corbin to ‘wait’ and ‘hold.’"

Carter’s mother said "that when Carter’s grandfather was hospitalized, Carter and Corbin were separated for a few days for about eight hours a day. She said that this disrupted their working relationship because Corbin was not responding to his commands and that Carter went back to having more tantrums. She stated that after a few days of coaching, their relationship was back to normal. She testified that, in her opinion, separating Carter and Corbin would greatly harm their working relationship and that if they are separated, Corbin would become a pet, as opposed to a service animal, and Carter would suffer. She stated that Carter and Corbin share a working relationship and a very strong bond and that in order to maintain that bond and relationship, Corbin needs to be with Carter every day as a part of his daily routines."

The appellate court agreed, upholding the preliminary injunction issued by the Monroe County, Illinois Court. The school district, however, may appeal further on the bases Corbin is not a service dog and at least one student is severely allergic to dogs though Corbin is hypoallergenic.  

Earlier this year a Douglas County, Illinois circuit judge ordered that a first grader with autism, Kaleb Drew, could have his service dog, Chewey, in school. Most other states have laws requiring accommodations for people with disabilities to keep service dogs with them in public places. Judges in  Pennsylvania and California have also recently ordered schools to allow autistic students to have their service dogs with them while attending classes or other school functions.

2 thoughts on “Carter, Corbin and the Law”

  1. Ok. I read the story. Seems obvious Corbin is a service dog. In the interest of being open minded, what is the school district’s issue? What is the school district’s concerns? Are they valid. Just seems like so much of a slam dunk on Carter’s side and, given local municipalities’ financial straights in this economy, why are they continuing to fight? If there is no compelling counterargument – Rock On Carter and Corbin!

  2. The school district’s objection is that there was only one special-ed prek class in the entire school district, and one of the other children in the class has a severe allergy to dogs complicared by a severe lung disease with a history of having to be hospitalized for severe allergic reactions after exposure to dogs. They wanted to send Carter with his dog to another school because they argued they had no way in the district to accomodate both children as the class they attended served a very limited need.

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