A Winnipeg woman and her daughter were rattled after a confrontation at a city restaurant over her service dog, Pepperpod.
Mackenzie Lough, 14, has an anxiety disorder and uses a service dog to help ease her panic attacks.
“My chest stiffens up, my shoulders rise, I get all fidgety, I start sweating and hyperventilating,” said Mackenzie.
Recently, she went to a Winnipeg restaurant for a birthday party with her mom. They called ahead to notify the restaurant about Pepperpod, a small-breed dog, but once they sat down, the restaurant said customers began to complain.
“We went to the bathroom. My mom went first, so after she could hold Pepperpod. A manager came in and cornered me and said that this dog was not allowed in here. I replied with, ‘It’s a service dog.’ She said, ‘That is not a service dog,’” Mackenzie said.
Mackenzie said she was asked to show documents proving the dog was in fact a legitimate service dog, and she handed over some documentation.
“She says, ‘Well, I’ve never seen a service dog like that,’ I said, ‘Well they are used for people with anxiety,’” said Jennita Lough, Mackenzie’s mom. “When you see [these people ] in public, it takes a lot for that person.”
George Leonard runs Elite K9 Service, an organization that provides specially trained service dogs to veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He said what happen to Mackenzie is common because most people believe only the visually impaired rely on a service dog.
"When you combine a different type of dog like an Aussie or a Chihuahua or another miniature dog and then you combine it with an invisible disability, people are going to call you on it,” said Leonard. ”They're going to go, ‘I don’t believe you.’"
Each province has specific guidelines for service dogs. In Manitoba, a doctor’s note is required, but it’s recommended you carry a card that proves the dog is certified.
"She says she's never seen a service dog like that,” said Jennita. “Your ignorance is not an excuse. Just because you don't know they exist doesn't mean they don't exist."
The card has an ID and phone number to call if a business doesn’t believe the dog is credible.