Birthday blues after service dog barred from casino

2019-03-27 08:15
Robyn Cotton and her service dog Ombra (Supplied)

Robyn Cotton and her service dog Ombra (Supplied)

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Service dog Ombra is more than just a "fur baby" for Robyn Cotton. The canine is highly trained to help keep Cotton's medical condition manageable.

However, not everybody sees it this way.

Just last week she and her friends wanted to celebrate her birthday at a Pretoria casino but were turned away because "no dogs are allowed" and "some people have a dog phobia".

No amount of trying to get the security guard to understand that this was not just her floof joining her for a flutter, but a dog that was highly trained to help her maintain her overall physical health. 

"She is my life," Cotton told News24.

Cotton is sighted, so she does not have a cane, but has a medical condition, which Ombra helps her with.

"She does wear a jacket that I have, and [she has] a little card that I carry in my wallet," Cotton told News24. 

"But they weren't even interested. They just don't care."

Cotton's wish is that companies would train their staff, especially security guards, to know that people like her are allowed to have a dog with them.

Her birthday may have been a bit blue, but at least her wish came true.

ALSO READ: Service dog has puppies at busy airport

The casino has since apologised and Sun International group communications manager Zoleka Skweyiya said the company recognised the crucial role service dogs played. A policy on them is in place.

"The staff member has also apologised for the oversight and noted that this particular dog was 'very well behaved and kind'," said Skweyiya.

SA Guide Dogs Association of South Africa spokesperson Pieter van Niekerk said the situation was nothing new for people who have service dogs.

He explained that Section 9 of the Constitution prevented discrimination on the basis of disabilities, and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act gave effect to this section.

Violations include failing to remove obstacles that unfairly restrict disabled people, failing to take reasonable steps to accommodate their needs, or depriving them of goods or services because they are disabled.

He added that, for hygiene purposes, the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act prohibited animals from areas where food was prepared or handled.

But the exception is for a guide dog with a blind person. The association believes that by extension, this also applies to registered service dogs for people who have certain other conditions. 

In the meantime, he would love it if companies brush up on the difference between the dowager sneaking her teacup dog into a restaurant in her bejewelled handbag, and the service dogs who play an important part in maintaining the independence and well-being of their humans.

People who have a guide or service dog, carry a card to say their dog is trained.

In addition: 

- Puppies who are in training to be a service dog wear a blue jacket. The association's logo and the words "guide dog puppy" are on the front of its little jacket. These puppies need to get used to the hustle and bustle of public life as they go through their training with their puppy raiser on public transport, in malls and in restaurants;

- A guide dog for the blind always wears a leather harness; 

- A service dog usually assists a physically or mentally disabled person who could be on crutches or in a wheelchair. These dogs wear red jackets bearing the SA Guide Dog logos and they also assist children;

- According to the association's website, the dogs are also helpful to autistic children who have a tendency to bolt off or run when frightened or distracted. They provide companionship for these children who are lonely due to their autism, and a source of comfort and interaction that is free from anxiety. 

Other service dogs assist people who are in wheelchairs to pick up items dropped on the floor, can even open or close drawers and cupboards, can help to switch on light switches, or is able to fetch items from one person and take them to another on a property.

Read more on:    pretoria  |  animals  |  health

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