When a blind man and his guide dog were bullied on a bus, a teenager felt compelled to stand up to the bully in defense of the blind man and his working dog's rights. The teenager's actions resulted in public support for the guide dog and embarrassment for the ignorant person. This story highlights the importantance for people who witness discrimination against service dogs to stand up against it.
Although many dog lovers know that service animals are legally permitted to accompany their disabled owners into public venues, a large portion of the general public does not know this fact.
A recent study by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT in Australia reported that 42% of the public is unaware that guide dogs are allowed in restaurants. Their members call in at least once a month to say they have been refused entry to a public space.
These situations are not only embarrassing and upsetting to disabled persons, they are discriminatory and illegal. It's clear that more has to be done to help educate people.
This is highlighted by an incident that happened to John Dignard at a McDonald's restaurant in Wetaskiwin, Alberta a few weeks ago. Dignard suffers from a permanent brain injury which causes him to have blackouts and difficulty navigating. His service dog Eve helps him get around. He told CBC News that he was forced to leave by a manager claiming that customers had complained his dog smelled.
He produced his government issued identification and told the man he could not be denied service. Dignard says the manager responded, "I'll pay the fine ... I don't care. I want you and the dog never to come back here no more. Your dog stinks and everybody is writing letters to me. I'm tired of it and I want you to leave.'"
Dignard was shocked and vows to never return to the restaurant. Despite two employs cooberating Dignard's story, the McDonald's owner denies that Dignard was asked to leave.
Regardless, Dignard says plans to complain to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The Canadian province has a Service Dogs Act in place to deal with such discriminations and businesses can be fined up to $3000 for violations.
Carla Schneider says Dignard's story sounds familiar to her. Two years ago she was refused service at the same McDonald's. Schneider, who suffered a brain injury and lost an eye after a car accident got a St. Bernard, Angus, to help her stand and get around.
When she went for a coffee and brought in Angus, she was grilled by an employee as to why she had such a large dog and the nature of her disabilities. She produced her ID, but was still asked to remove Angus from the restaurant because she couldn't "provide the required information for the service dog."Schneider was apalled. When she complained to McDonald's, she received an apology letter and $20 of gift certificates.
After hearing Dignard's mistreatment, she says she wants McDonalds to apologize to every disabled person who uses a service dog. "We are not different. We are not abnormal," she said. "We have rights."
Dignard echoes those sentiments and said "Change your attitude towards service dogs. They're not pets. They're working dogs ... my handicap is invisible."
Advocates in the Canadian province say the government needs to do more to get businesses to comply with the law, and greater education of the public is needed.
That's precisely what Guide Dogs NSW/ACT plans to do with its recently launched a public awareness campaign called "Guide Dogs Welcome Here". The campaign calls on restaurateurs to place a sticker in their window to help show their support and help reverse discrimination.
This is also a call to dog lovers who know the law to stand up and help. In Digard's and Schneider's encounters, other people witnessed what was happening, but did not step forward and aid them.
It's important to speak up and educate people who are intolerant or uninformed. Not only will your support be appreciated by the disabled community, but it will help put a stop to discrimination against guide dogs and their disabled humans.