A FAMILY and their service dog were told to leave a popular food chain last week because the dog posed a hygiene risk.
The family of four were asked to leave Wokingham Nandos after entering the restaurant with their autism service dog, Camo.
Debora Wiggs — whose finacé and son both have autism — said: “The assistant manager, advised us that no dog, whether autism, hearing or guide dog would be allowed in the restaurant for hygiene reasons.”
The branch’s assistant manager contacted the branch general manager, who confirmed that they would not allow the family entry with their service dog.
The Wiggs family’s assistance dog was trained by Pawsable, an organisation that specialises in assistance dogs for autism.
Ms Wiggs contacted Pawsable Director, Hilary Armour during the incident.
Pawsable say that they’re always at the end of the phone for families who need advice.
Ms Wiggs hoped that by speaking to the organisation directly, this would change the assistant manager’s decision.
“Initially, he said that no matter who he would talk to it was the same decision and refused to talk to Hilary,” said Ms Wiggs. “However, I insisted and handed the phone to him. He still refused to allow us access to the restaurant.”
While on the phone to the assistant manager, Ms Armour explained that the Wiggs’ dog, Camo had been properly trained through a recognised organisation.
“Once off the phone to Hilary, he became even more hostile as other members of the public in the restaurant asked what was happening,” said Ms Wiggs.
“At this point, my son Harley ran out of the restaurant crying, and the assistant manager stepped up near me and told me to ‘leave now’”.
“My autistic, profoundly deaf fiancé came straight to my side and got angry. I managed to calm him down and we left the restaurant suitably humiliated, demeaned and hungry.
“My son was hungry, embarrassed and in tears waiting by the car outside. It took me hours to calm both him and my fiancé down.
Ms Wiggs added that their assistance dog, Camo was impeccably behaved throughout.
“I know the average person would just get over this,” she said. “However, for my husband-to-be and my son, it will be weeks for them to deal with this and will affect their confidence where ever they go.”
She added: “Being a qualified Nurse and a sign language communicator with a disability, I am well aware of accessibility and reasonable adjustments.
“I feel angry that in this day and age an assistant manager of a restaurant can behave like this and feel he’s just to do so.”
A spokesperson from Nando’s said: “We would like to sincerely apologise to the Wiggs family for what happened, and regret any distress this event caused.
“It has highlighted that there were gaps in our Wokingham team’s knowledge of our policy to allow guide and assistance dogs into our restaurants and they made a wrong call, they have subsequently been retrained on the policy and we are confident that this was an isolated incident.
“We have reached out to the Wiggs family and would love to welcome them back to the restaurant to apologise personally.”
Pawsable Director, Hilary Armour said: “By being refused entry, the service provider could be in contravention of the Equalities Act.
“The Equalities Act means that all assistance dogs have the same rights as Guide Dogs for the Blind. However, it is a bit of a grey area, as it is up to the service provider’s discretion whether they allow the dogs in.
“When we train up our dogs, we often use Nandos restaurants to familiarise them with these sorts of settings.
“The Wiggs family knew this and went to the Wokingham Nandos as a result. But the branch rejected them and asked them to leave.
“Being refused entry on the day caused real problems for the whole family. Their dog makes a significant difference in their access to public spaces.
“It is important for service providers to understand that not all disabilities are visible, which is the case for the Wiggs family.”
On Pawsable’s website, the charity recognises the legal access rights of service dogs.
They state: “Although service providers are expected to make ‘reasonable adjustment’ to enable everyone to access their services with equal opportunity, the law still states that accepting a dog on their premises is still their choice and even Guide Dogs for the Blind are not exempt from this.
“The reality is that very few places who see an assistance dog belonging to a trusted organisation with supporting documentation will refuse entry.
“Where they do, our support team swings into action and we negotiate on your behalf, making sure we can offer the service provider peace of mind and confidence that the dog is being trained in accordance with internationally recognised assistance dog standards.”
After the incident, the Wiggs family contacted a Nandos branch in Basingstoke.
Ms Wiggs said: “Sadly they couldn’t help with the situation, however, they were so sorry we weren’t nearer so we could eat there with Camo”.
Still hungry, the family went to The Three Frogs, which they call a ‘safe pub’.
“Jane, their landlady, was very welcoming and helped me to calm the situation,” said Ms Wiggs. “We were treated like royalty, they even gave us some roast beef for Camo.”