My assistance dog and me still face prejudice – why?


Zoe shares her experience of hate crime and why she thinks things to need to change.

Zoe and her guide dog Shelia

Let me tell you about myself, then ask you a question. My name is Zoe; I have several health issues, including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which means I dislocate very easily, and Functional Neurological Disorder which means I occasionally spasm. It can be a tough combination, but I know how to handle it.

I also have Sheila, my assistance dog. She’s a labrador and retriever cross who the wonderful people trained at Dogs For Good. And she makes all the difference for me.

Negative attitudes

It’s just a shame that I have to encounter some of the attitudes I do. I’ve had some very variable experiences out and about with my assistance dog Sheila. I was already a wheelchair user before I was matched with her, and the places that dealt well with me also were brilliant about Sheila.

But the opposite was also true. One tried to place Sheila and I in a booth. Which, apart from being impossible in a wheelchair, meant Sheila would have had to rest in the aisle, and that is its own issue. They didn’t even understand why I wanted a different table.

Rob, a volunteer, with Sam, a resident, in his bedroom at Lavender Fields

Sign our social media pledge

Join us in our pledge to drive down disability hate crime on social media and support victims.

Make a pledge

I’ve even had issues when phoning ahead to let places know I have an assistance dog, which is not compulsory. I called a hotel to explain that I would have Sheila and made it clear she was an assistance dog. The lady I spoke to snapped down the phone at me that they don’t take dogs, in a tone so full of venom it really upset me and knocked my confidence completely.

It was good that it happened over the phone rather than when we arrived, but when I got to the hotel, I was trembling and worried about being screamed at again. It’s always there as a worry now.

Lack of training and understanding

I’m generally much more confident now when I go places with Sheila. I’ve also had many invasive questions asked, and some comments can feel very isolating. It’s not just staff, and that’s the problem. It’s the general public, too, who make these places feel hostile. I’ve been followed around shops by people trying to sneakily stroke Sheila.

One man did this for half an hour and laughed at me for being more and more scared. I ended up having to leave because of him. As someone whose been stalked before, it was a really bad experience. But here’s the thing – it’s not an isolated one.

I think it’s indicative of the wider issue of a real lack of training for people and a lack of understanding that while Sheila is in her jacket, she is my helper; she is working.

Do I deserve this?

But here’s the question. Whatever the cause is, why should I have to put up with this sort of treatment?

And hopefully, you agree that the simple answer is that I shouldn’t, and nor should Sheila. Nor should anyone else. Ignorance is absolutely no excuse.