A BASINGSTOKE mum has been left feeling "embarrassed" and "discriminated against" after she was told to leave a supermarket along with her assistance dog.

Bex Clifton was shopping in Sainsbury’s in The Malls on December 2 along with her service dog Maxxy when she claims she was challenged by a member of staff and "shouted at" in front of other customers. 

Speaking to the Gazette, Bex claimed the staff member said that Maxxy wasn’t a real service dog and made her feel so embarrassed, she had to leave.

“I’ve got a disability and the person shouting at me made me feel discriminated against," Bex said.

"[When I went back to complain the next day], my four-year-old daughter was with me and she was in tears. The member of staff was shouting from the customer service desk to the door, shouting: 'He's not a service dog'.

She added: "Everyone was looking at us, it made us feel different."

Bex, who has a heart condition, relies on Maxxy. In the event she could faint or suffer a medical episode, Maxxy is trained to kick into action.

As well as medical training, the nine-year-old Jack Russell Collie cross offers a source of companionship for Bex who says her mental health has “improved massively” since owning him.

She said she had taken Maxxy into stores all over Basingstoke and had encountered no problems until her trip to Sainsbury's earlier this month. 

Bex decided to return to the superstore the day after to lodge a formal complaint. 

However she claimed the same staff member who had told her to leave the day previously again asked her to leave the store, causing further embarassment. 

Basingstoke Gazette:


Bex made the decision to escalate the complaint to the supermarket's customer service department and praised the manager of the store as being "really good" about the situation. 

The mum, who lives in Basingstoke, was given a full apology and a voucher as a gesture of goodwill.

This is the second incident of its kind to happen in North Hampshire in recent months. In October, a three-year-old boy and his assistance dog were turned away from a petrol station in Andover (see below). 

But now Bex said she believes there needs to be more awareness about invisible disabilities to prevent incidents like this from happening again. 

She decided to get in touch with the local press to increase knowledge of service dogs and why they are important. She said: “We need to raise awareness. A lot of people don’t really know what an assistance dog really is, everyone thinks it’s a guide dog and that’s it.

“Not many people have heard of emotional support animals.”

A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “We have apologised to Rebecca for her experience and provided her with a gesture of goodwill so that we can welcome her back into store with Maxxy.”

What is the law on assistance dogs? 

Guide dog and assistance dog owners have important rights under the Equality Act 2010 (EA). The EA provides for people with disabilities to have the same right to services supplied by shops, banks, hotels, libraries, pubs, taxis and restaurants as everyone else.

Under Part 12 of the EA it is also illegal for assistance dog owners to be refused access to a taxi or mincab with their assistance dog. Medical exemptions are available if drivers have a certificate from their GPs.

(Source: Assistance Dogs UK)

What the law means in practice

It is against the law for service providers to treat people with disabilities less favourably because of their disability, or because they have a guide or assistance dog with them.

Making “reasonable adjustments” might mean giving extra help, such as guiding someone to a restaurant table, or making some changes to the way you provide your services to make it easier for blind and partially-sighted people to use them. It certainly includes allowing guide dogs and assistance dogs into all public places with their owners.

Guide dog and assistance dog owners have important rights under the Equality Act 2010. The EA provides for disabled people to have the same right to services supplied by shops, banks, hotels, libraries, pubs, taxis and restaurants as everyone else.

Read the Equality Act 2010 in full.

(Source: Assistance Dogs UK) 

Boy with assistance dog refused entry to store

A three-year-old boy and his assistance dog were refused entry from an Andover petrol station in October. 

Leon Bulner, who lives with autism, and his two-year-old assistance dog Fern tried to go into the Londis store at the Texaco petrol station in Weyhill on Sunday, October 1 when they were told the dog was not allowed in.

When Leon's father Karsten tried to explain Fern was an assistant dog, the cashier said: “No dogs, end of.”

He went back the following morning to try and explain to the manager, but Karsten says that he “basically threw me out”.

Basingstoke Gazette:

He was told that assistance dogs were only allowed in for blind and deaf people, and when Karsten said that wasn’t the law, the manager replied that it was “Londis law” and that he “didn’t care” about a potential fine.

“It’s quite humiliating and embarrassing, it’s disgusting,” Karsten said, speaking at the time to the Gazette's sister newspaper The Andover Advertiser.

“I’m trying to keep my cool and bite my tongue, but to be treated like that is unbelievable. It’s disability discrimination. You’re basically saying ‘if you’re not blind then you can’t bring any assistance dog in here’.

Karsten explained that they’ve often been challenged when going out, but as soon as the relevant person realised that Fern was an assistance dog, they were allowed to go about their business.

“That’s how it should be,” he added.

Karsten said that he wants people to be aware of the issues facing those with invisible disabilities.

Vas Mohanathas, Area Manager for JP&S Services, the company who runs the store, was 'appalled' after learning about the way the incident was handled and took swift action to ensure it wouldn't happen again.

As well as erecting a sign outside the store to say assistance dogs were welcome, he pledged to offer free dog treats for guide and service pets.

Return to Homepage