Nfld. & Labrador

Service dog handlers face bitter pushback, kicked out of public places

Two handlers of service dogs in Newfoundland and Labrador say they've recently been kicked out of public places and yelled at for having their dogs with them.

Canadian Forces vet booted from mall, child with diabetes rejected from public places

Mike Rude says he often has trouble with people who don't understand that his service dog, Spark, is allowed to accompany him almost everywhere. (Mike Rude/Submitted)

Mike Rude, a veteran of nearly three decades with the Canadian Armed Forces, did not expect conflict when he went to the Valley Mall in Corner Brook, N.L., with his service dog, Spark.

What happened on that day earlier this month still makes Rude shudder.

A security guard told Rude, a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, to get off mall property after questioning him about the validity of his service dog.

'Pretty much everywhere we go, we're told she's not allowed there. Sometimes in a polite way. Sometimes not in a polite way.- Rhea Dale

"It was very frustrating and upsetting," Rude told CBC News. "I knew it was my right to go around with the dog. When I showed [the security guard] every possible piece of proof, nothing was good enough."

Rude left the mall, but later returned to confront the man again. When he saw him inside the mall, the security guard told him to leave again.

"We've already had this conversation," Rude recalls the man yelling at him.

For all the benefit Spark has provided, there are still jarring incidents where people do not understand or respect the dog's role in helping with everyday life, Rude said.

It's a struggle Rhea Dale also understands.

The Happy Valley-Goose Bay woman has a son with Type 1 diabetes. The family has a service dog to help identify when young Nathaniel's blood sugars reach dangerous levels.

Rhea Dale says Skipper has been a big help for the family in manage Nathaniel's Type 1 diabetes, but they've also left the dog home sometimes to avoid confrontation. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

But there have been some alarming problems.

"Pretty much everywhere we go, we're told she's not allowed there. Sometimes in a polite way. Sometimes not in a polite way."

Dale says they were OK with the pushback at first. They welcomed the chance to educate people, who were usually polite in their objections to the dog.

But it became monotonous, tedious and frustrating. The family began bringing the dog out in public less and less, which is bad for her training.

Nathaniel and Rhea Dale meet Skipper for the first time. Rhea has a short response for people who tell the family they can't have the service dog with them: 'She is allowed.' (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Recently, they started taking Skipper out in public more to get her comfortable with her tasks.

Problems hit a boiling point last week, when someone yelled at the family in a crowded public place for having Skipper with them.

That's not the way they thought it was going to be.

"We thought we would get Skipper and she would be an asset to our lives and help us manage this awful disease a little bit more," Dale said.

'She is allowed'

A service dog is allowed to accompany its owner anywhere they go in public, except in areas where food is being processed.

The Dale family has had problems explaining to people that service dogs are not pets but serving a purpose vital to the health and wellness of their handlers.

"'She is allowed." That's what I tell everyone. "She is allowed."'- Rhea Dale

Rhea Dale has one short, declarative answer any time somebody questions Skipper's place in public.

"'She is allowed,'" she says. "That's what I tell everyone. 'She is allowed.'"

Rude has also faced this issue, but never more boldly than the incident at the Valley Mall.

Because of the questions he gets, he keeps a photo on his phone of the certificate issued to him with his dog's information on it.

Even after Rude presented it to the mall security guard, along with his own driver's licence to prove his identity, he says it wasn't enough.

Mall management eventually issued Rude an apology, but he took issue with it not being in person.

Time to spread awareness

While he's had problems around town before, Rude said he more often meets people who do understand the role of a service dog.

Everybody wants to pet Spark, he said, but they know to ask first before approaching the dog.

People love to pet Spark, says Mike Rude, but as he's a service dog, people need to ask permission before they can approach him. (Mike Rude/Submitted)

The Dale family had the support of the public, too, at one point.

"That's how we got Skipper," Dale said. "People donated and spread the word."

But once they had the dog and started going out in public, it was a different story.

While they have been frustrated and denied in the past, Dale says it won't be happening anymore. They didn't sign up to be vocal advocates for service dogs, but now they don't have a choice.

"We weren't quite mentally prepared for that at first. But now it's time," she said. "We need to start spreading awareness of where she can go."

With files from John Gaudi and Colleen Connors