Service dog users often denied service despite Alberta law, critics say

Some Alberta businesses are violating provincial regulations by denying access to people with disabilities who are accompanied by service dogs, a Calgary advocate says.

Blind Calgary woman has been turned away from restaurants, stores and taxis

Diane Allard, who gets around with help from her guide dog Zircon, has been refused service by many establishments. (CBC)

Some Alberta businesses are violating provincial regulations by denying access to people with disabilities who are accompanied by service dogs, a Calgary advocate says.

People are being refused service in restaurants, stores and taxis, said CNIB spokesman John McDonald.

He said business owners are probably unaware that in most cases a refusal of service can bring a fine of up to $3,000 under provincial legislation. To be a qualified service dog under the Service Dogs Act, the dog must be trained through an Assistance Dogs International (ADI) accredited school.

Diane Allard, who lost her sight 16 years ago, gets around with help from Zircon — an intensively trained golden retriever-Labrador cross.

But Allard and Zircon have been turned away from many places including grocery stores, shops and restaurants.  On one occasion, a cab driver once refused to pick her up.

"He showed up, he said, ‘Is that your dog?’ and I said, 'Yes.' And he said, ‘That dog is not coming in my car’. And he drove away and it was -25 C that day," she said.

Public awareness needed

"He didn't even bother calling another cab or anything. I did call the cops and they approached him and he lost his job because of that."

McDonald said more needs to be done.

“Raising public awareness, education about what the laws contain and don't contain, and more vigilance on the part of the public as well as the handlers themselves about bringing forth these times where they have been denied access.”

McDonald said when people with disabilities are refused service, they are not able to fully participate in society.

Information released this week by Courageous Companions says Calgary is one of the worst cities to live in with a service dog.

The study only included data collected from 300 service dog owners, but tracked their stories over 18 months. It found the worst offenders of denying public access were airports, taxis, restaurants, grocery stores and hotels.

Information on Alberta service dogs

  • There are an estimated 80 to 100 service dogs in the province, but the exact number assisting individuals with disabilities is not known.
  • Not all service dogs wear a harness or a vest and they can be of various breeds.
  • Advanced training of a service dog starts when the animal is about 14 months old and takes between six and eight months. During this time, they receive between 120 and 360 hours of training.
  • Service dogs are working and should not be treated as pets by members of the public. Speaking to or petting service dogs without the permission of their owner can disrupt their concentration, potentially causing harm to the owner.
  • Identification cards are available to owners of qualified service dogs. The identification cards display the Alberta Government logo and a picture of the owner and service dog.

*Source: Government of Alberta


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