‘We tried to explain to him, but he just wouldn’t listen,’ says pastor whose canine helper was turned away; Business owner apologizes By: Jackie Kozak
Posted August 8, 2021
“Any dog is not allowed,” repeated Ganesh Ponniah, owner of the Golden Taste of Asia restaurant in Bradford, while refusing a local pastor and his service dog entrance into his establishment last week.
Lily, the two-year-old purebred golden doodle, is owned by Cory Kostyra, interim pastor at Bradford Community Church.
Lily completed training with the Citadel Canine Society as a medical service dog in June 2020, pursuant to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and in accordance with the standards of the Canadian Association of Service Dog Trainers.
Upon entering the restaurant last Wednesday with Lily and friend Martin Lim, Kostyra was shocked when the owner told him his service dog would not be allowed inside the establishment.
“We tried to explain to him, but he just wouldn’t listen,” said Kostyra, adding that other customers within earshot of the disagreement also stepped in to help explain to the owner why the dog was allowed inside.
Kostyra, Lim and Lily left the premises, as instructed by Ponniah, and ended up dining down the street.
The incident at Golden Taste of Asia was immediately brought to the attention of the town’s accessibility advisory committee. BradfordToday called the restaurant for a statement and briefly spoke to staff before the calls were abruptly terminated. It took three tries before BradfordToday was able to speak with the owner directly.
“This is the first time this happened. I didn’t know about that, but I kindly ask so sorry for that,” said Ponniah. “In my five years here, nobody ever come here with a dog, that’s why I kindly ask, so sorry.”
Lily’s certificate, which Kostyra carries with him at all times, requests that “individuals, business owners, facility managers and others, afford Lily and her handler, Mr. Cory Kostyra, appropriate privileges and a reasonable degree of physical public access.”
“They have to provide training for their employees and allow someone with a service dog into their premises,” said Kostyra. “If the dog is wearing a service vest, that’s more than suitable proof, but we have the paperwork, too.”
The AODA spells it out: “If a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, the provider (owner) shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and to keep the animal with him or her, unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises.”
Under the “training for staff” section, it states that “every provider shall ensure that the following persons receive training about the provisions of the provider’s goods, services or facilities, as the case may be, to persons with disabilities” (including) every person who is an employee of, or a volunteer with the provider,” making owners responsible for reviewing with their staff the purpose of the Act and the requirements to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities.
There are penalties for failure to follow the Act. According to the AODA, if the incident is deemed “major” or there is a repeat offence, a daily penalty of up to a maximum of $100,000 in the case of a corporation, and $50,000 in the case of an individual or unincorporated organization can be levied.
“It’s mandatory he trains his staff (and himself) to understand accessibility standards,” Kostyra said of the restaurant owner.
The Ontario government website notes that “one in seven people in Ontario has a disability,” which is approximately two million Ontarians. Over the next 20 years, as province’s population ages, people with disabilities are expected to represent about 40 per cent of total income in Ontario, or $536 billion.
“People with disabilities are a growing market that businesses can’t afford to overlook,” the website states.
“Ontario has laws to ensure all Ontarians can access your organization’s goods, services or facilities. The law requires your organization to identify those barriers, and remove them, in order to provide customer service that is more accessible to people who have disabilities,” the government site notes.
“This is an opportunity to educate businesses in our community in regards to the AODA Act,” said Bradford West Gwillimbury Deputy Mayor James Leduc, chair of the local accessibility advisory committee. “As you can see under Section 80, it is something that businesses should be aware of, that service dogs are an important part of people’s needs with disabilities and that they should be allowed into any business to support the owner.”
Leduc added: “I believe this is where we as a municipality can do better in educating business owners of their obligations to residents with disabilities. We are working toward a strategy on how to get business owners educated on the Act and the roles and responsibilities of those owners. We need to be better.”
According to the Act, there are various types of service animals, aside from guide dogs, that support people with different types of disabilities. The four most common disabilities that utilize a service animal are vision impairment or loss, epilepsy, autism, and anxiety disorders.
There are no restrictions on what type of animal can be used as a service animal, as long as the animal is wearing a certified harness or vest to indicate as such, or the person with a disability provides appropriate documentation from a regulated health professional.
According to Caleigh Clubine, community relations officer with the municipality, “the town was interested to learn that there may be a lack of awareness of the laws surrounding service dogs.”
“While this is a provincial area of jurisdiction, the chair of the town’s accessibility advisory committee has stated that he will be encouraging the committee to look into whether there may be an opportunity to help educate and inform business owners and the public,” she added.
The Citadel Canine Society, where Lily was trained, carries the highest standard in basic obedience and training for service animals. They are a CRA-registered charity organization that specifically trains post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Operational Stress Injury (OSI) medical service dogs for military veterans and first-responders.
“The moment you put the vest on, (Lily) knows she’s working,” said Kostyra.
Lily’s training with Citadel is described as “intense” and includes bringing service-dogs-in-training through rooms filled with toys and treats where the animals are trained not to touch anything.
“It’s really neat. I would drop food right on her head and she won’t touch it,” Kostyra said of the training.
Citadel also trains the service animals in different environments, including hospitals and airplanes, where there are different sounds.
“The hardest part is making them “bomb proof’ to noises and outside distractions,” Kostyra added.
When he experienced a panic attack in a store, he says Lily proved her worth.
“One time, Lily dragged me out of a Walmart,” Kostyra said. “I couldn’t move. I was in the middle of the aisle with my cart.”
Although the owner of Golden Taste of Asia eventually offered Kostyra and his service dog a free meal for the oversight, Kostyra declined the offer, but he will not be pressing charges.
“Service animals have a job to do, they are not pets,” he said, adding there’s a difference between a highly trained service dog and a therapy dog. “If I had went into that restaurant and had an attack, someone would have had to come get me.”
To learn more about the laws and regulations surrounding Accessibility for Ontarians visit https://www.aoda.ca. Business owners who would like to make their services more accessible can visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-make-customer-service-accessible?utm_source=barrietoday.com&utm_campaign=barrietoday.com&utm_medium=referral. Original at https://www.barrietoday.com/local-news/service-dog-refused-entry-into-bradford-restaurant-leads-to-education-in-legislation-4201445