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Guide dog handler reminds public of right to access

Jashandra (Jay) Naidoo with his guide dog Elsa at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge on April 10. | P.Shokeir photo

Peter Shokeir | editor@fitzhugh.ca

A guide dog handler is reminding Jasperites about how service dog teams have the legal right to access any location where the public is allowed.

Jashandra (Jay) Naidoo, who is blind and works as a registered massage therapist, had two recent incidents where he was denied access to restaurants because of his guide dog.

“The education in the town is kind of crazy for some of the small businesses,” Naidoo said.

“For the most part, all the restaurants have been very accommodating, they’ve been excellent, actually, except for two.”

In the first incident, Naidoo was eventually able to get the owner to sit him inside, but in another incident at a different restaurant, he was denied service and left on his own to avoid a scene.

Most of the time, if Naidoo is told no dogs allowed when entering an establishment, he usually shows his Service Dog ID card and the business is understanding.

“With these two incidents here, they were like, ‘I don’t care,’” he said.

Naidoo explained how he gradually started losing his eyesight ten years ago due to a genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa.

His guide dog, Elsa, is an eight-year-old black Labrador retriever and golden retriever cross.

She was trained at Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind and has been with Naidoo for five years.

“When I first lost my eyesight, I started off slowly, using a mobility cane and figuring things out or whatever, and it was good, it was good, but with Elsa, it’s like way better,” Naidoo said.

“It’s way easier. Once she learns the routes home or the routes in the hotel and stuff, I eventually tell her where to go, she goes. It’s awesome. It’s like having a real buddy with you all the time, taking you wherever you need to go.”

Guide dogs and other qualified service dogs have been trained and tested to ensure safety in public.

Under the Alberta Service Dog Act, a qualified service dog team has the right to go anywhere the public may go, including restaurants.

If customers or employees have allergies, a fear of dogs or don’t want to be near dogs, they can make their fear known and ask the business to make alternate arrangements for them.

Businesses can’t designate a specific area for individuals with service dogs, such as an outside seating area.

Businesses that discriminate against qualified service dog teams can be fined up to $3,000.

Anyone falsely claiming to be a disabled person to get protection under the act may be subject to a fine of $300.

More information about the Alberta Service Dog Act is available on the province’s website at alberta.ca/service-dogs.aspx

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