A pair of Metro Vancouver teens with autism and severe anxiety disorders are speaking out after they were told to leave the SkyTrain because of their service dogs.
The pair, along with the organization that trains the animals, says the issue highlights a bias towards people with visible physical disabilities.
LISTEN: Two Metro Vancouver Kids With Developmental Disabilities Were Kicked Off Skytrain Because Of Their Service Dogs… Why?
Annika and Chloe say they were getting on the SkyTrain with their service dogs Lilly and Sherlock – who are both still in training – when a transit official approached them and questioned them about the dogs.
The pair say the dogs were behaving and sitting underneath the train seat like they are meant to – and both were equipped with harnesses, vests that say “autism” on them, leashes, and collars.
“They’re legally classified as medical equipment, they’re the same as a wheelchair or a cane,” says Chloe.
The pair use their dogs to handle anxiety severe anxiety. Annika, for example, says Sherlock will guide her out of a building if she starts having a panic attack, to find a safe place where they can sit and he can press into her to relieve the stress.
When the SkyTrain official asked them to prove the dogs were service animals by providing ID, the girls couldn’t.
Chloe says because they’re still in training they didn’t have any kind of paperwork.
She says they were told to get off. With the stress rising, and in an attempt not to totally shut down, the pair called Danielle Main with the Leash of Hope Society – the program that provided them with the dogs.
Because the anxiety of the situation was escalating and the girls’ parents weren’t too far off – she advised them to get off the train, and deal with TransLink afterwards.
Different set of standards
Main says she doesn’t have an axe to grind with TransLink, and adds that over time her organization has developed close links with many of the staff.
She says officials have begun to crack down on false service dogs, but says that enforcement is being unequally applied at the expense of people who look able-bodied.
“The biggest problem with transit more than anything is the way that they address or handle situations. Because these two ladies here look like able-bodied people, they’re walking targets.”
She says it’s a common issue. One client last summer, she says, was barred from getting on a bus home from Coquitlam, and ended up stuck in the suburb overnight.
By contrast, she says people with wheelchairs or scooters are rarely questioned.
“We’ve seen a dog running around in a raincoat that someone’s hand written service dog on, and it’s had no problem on TransLink.”
Main says the primary goal going forward is to raise awareness that not all people with service dogs have a visible disability.
As for the girls, they say next time they get on the train it will be with a trainer for support, and they’re hoping to get IDs as soon as possible.
One of the girls had an older version of the certificate, and the attendant said it wasn’t acceptable.
The province has issued new service dog certificates with security features, but older certificates are still considered valid until they reach their expiry date.
In an email to CKNW, spokesperson Anne Drennan says, “TransLink is committed to making transit accessible for as many people as possible.
We sympathize with the two young women involved in the experience they described on the SkyTrain. We are looking into the situation to see what we can learn about our policies and procedures in these circumstances.
Assistance animals that are certified under the British Columbia Guide Animal Act are allowed on public transit at all times. The animal must wear its harness and leash and owners must be prepared to produce their animal’s Guide Animal Certificate if requested.”