Autism support dog refused bus access for being a ‘pet’

Ryan King’s autism support dog Walter was initially refused access to a TransLink community shuttle on Sunday, despite the fact the BC Guide Dog-certified yellow lab had all the proper documentation as well as the signature blue vest. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Walter’s blue vest identifies him as an autism support dog. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Ryan King’s autism support dog Walter was initially refused access to a TransLink community shuttle on Sunday, despite the fact the BC Guide Dog-certified yellow lab had all the proper documentation as well as the signature blue vest. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Ryan King’s autism support dog Walter was initially refused access to a TransLink community shuttle on Sunday, despite the fact the BC Guide Dog-certified yellow lab had all the proper documentation as well as the signature blue vest. (Tracy Holmes photo)

A White Rock grandmother has lodged a complaint with TransLink after an incident with a driver that she says emphasizes the need for better awareness around the rights of accessibility afforded to service dogs.

Margaret Kay said she, her grandson Ryan King and his BC Guide Dog-certified yellow lab, Walter, tried to hop the westbound 361 community shuttle at Oxford Street and Marine Drive at 4:20 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 10), after Ryan became tired towards the end of their walk along the promenade. They wanted a two-block lift, to the Bay Street lot where Kay’s car was parked.

However, when the trio tried to board, the driver “said, ‘I can’t take your dog on the bus because he’s a pet,’” Kay said.

“I said, ‘He’s not a pet.’”

The dog has been support for 20-year-old King, who is autistic, for the past seven years, Kay said. When out and about with King and Kay, the gentle canine wears a blue vest that identifies him as an autism support dog, and both King and Kay carry documentation that identifies them as certified to have Walter with them anywhere they go.

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Kay said despite showing that photo ID on Sunday, the shuttle driver remained adamant for 20 minutes that Walter wasn’t allowed.

“The shuttle doors didn’t open all the way,” King told Peace Arch News. The driver “didn’t want us on the bus.”

It wasn’t until after another passenger pointed out a notice on the back of the driver’s seat that states service animals are permitted, that things changed, Kay said. The driver got out of his seat to read the notice, then allowed the three to board. He didn’t continue along the route, however, until after spending another five minutes reviewing the documentation that was previously offered, Kay said.

Then, after Ryan pushed the button to signal he and Kay wanted the Bay Street stop, the driver commented, “all that for two stops?” she said.

“I think it’s important for people to be aware that service dogs do have public-access licence,” Kay said.

TransLink confirmed Tuesday that a complaint regarding the incident was received and that Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) “will be looking into what happened.”

PAN was also pointed to TransLink’s policy for service animals, which states certified assistance animals “are allowed on public transit at all times.” The policy adds that the animals must be harnessed and leashed, and passengers with them must be prepared to produce their Guide Animal Certificate.

Certification “increases public safety, raises training standards and improves public access for dog and handler teams,” according to the provincial Guide Dog and Service Dog Act.

The Act also stipulates that a guide-dog team, service-dog team or dog-in-training team “may, in the same manner as would an individual who is not a member of any of those teams, enter and use any place, accommodation, building or conveyance to which the public is invited or has access.”

A penalty of up to $3,000 can be levied for refusing a certified guide or service dog access. By the same token, falsely representing a dog as a guide or service dog can also result in a fine of up to $3,000.

Kay said incident is an opportunity to educate the public about the rights of service dogs and the individuals they are supporting. What she, King and Walter experienced Sunday was “not at all” acceptable, she said.



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