Army veteran turned away by Indian restaurant because he had a PTSD support dog

Picture of assistance dog Ziggy (left) next to former British Army medic Richard Mearns, from Croydon, south London
Richard Mearns, 38, says Ziggy has transformed his life ‘without a doubt’ (Picture: Richard Mearns/@AssistanceZiggy)

A former armed forces medic was left feeling ‘shaken’ after curry house staff asked him to leave because he was with his PTSD support dog.

Despite explaining why he needs his Labrador Ziggy, Richard Mearns, 38, was told ‘no animals at all’ as he was shooed out of Shapur Indian Restaurant in Strand, central London.

The veteran says he was essentially discriminated against because of his condition, as his dog is like a crutch who lets him live a normal life.

After Richard and a friend were turned away on Thursday last week they went to a Thai restaurant down the road, but his stress levels went right up and put a dampener on the evening He told ‘It’s embarrassing because you get these people stumbling around drunk and I’m just thinking well I just want to sit down with my food and eat it.
Ex-British army medic Richard Mearns and support dog Ziggy
The army veteran says he wouldn’t be able to work somewhere like London without his dog

‘I said “If I was blind would you let me in?” This bloke was like “no animals, no animals at all”.

‘I just want to come in and have some food. Then he started walking towards the door to usher us out.

basic obedience training

‘Why are you discriminating against me because I’ve got a dog to help me carry on with my normal day-to-day life?’

He says Ziggy was wearing a harness which clearly indicated he was a working dog but it didn’t cut it with restaurant staff.
Ex-British army medic Richard Mearns and support dog Ziggy
He says Ziggy is ‘like a crutch’ as he accused Shapur Indian Restaurant of discrimination (Picture: Richard Mearns)
Richard, 38, continues to suffer flashbacks in the middle of the night having witnessed horrific casualties after being deployed to Iraq in 2003.

The father-of-one added: ‘I think we pretty much dealt with everything you can in a battle.’

He was diagnosed with PTSD in 2009 and was introduced to Ziggy by charity Veterans with Dogs to Ziggy.

Now he talks openly about his condition and his journey to recovery as he delivers motivational talks across the country.

If it wasn’t for his companion, Richard thinks he wouldn’t be able to carry on working somewhere as chaotic and busy as the capital.

The civil servant said it can be a ‘nightmare working in London’ because he’s often on high-alert and ‘absorbing information all the time’.
Ex-British army medic Richard Mearns and support dog Ziggy
Richard says he has heard of PTSD sufferers being turned away because of their dogs in the past and thinks more education in workplaces is needed (Picture: Richard Mearns)

Reduce Stress. Dr. Becker notes, “The key is to reduce anxiety triggers.” If you have a vet visit, “don’t get the carrier out the night before,” give them a few days to get prepared. If they’re nervous alone or travelling, play soothing music, or draw the shades. The less stimulus pets receive from the outside world, the less anxiety they’ll have about events outside their control.

But Ziggy has ‘without a doubt’ changed his life by creating space around him and calming his nerves as he navigates through the Big Smoke’s bustling streets.

Richard added: ‘With each PTSD dog has a unique bespoke aspect to it.

‘They do medication reminders, they do grounding. When my stress levels go up my dog will begin to engage with me.

‘You can sit in a room and all of a sudden you get these intrusive thoughts, almost flashbacks but not quite.’

‘Your brain chemistry changes and you get stressed because you’re not think about what’s going on in front of you you’re focusing on what’s going on in your head.’

Richard Mearns serving in Iraq between 2003 and 2005
He saw horrific casualties when serving in Iraq between 2003 and 2005 (Picture: Richard Mearns)

‘Ziggy will rest his head on me he will nudge me, he will basically do his upmost to distract me. He basically turns my focus on to him.’

If all else fails, Richard says his dog will associate the room he is in with danger and tug on his hand or sleeve to try and get him out of the door.

The former serviceman from Croydon, south London says the legalities surrounding access for assistance animals is often a ‘very grey area’ that businesses themselves don’t know enough about.

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Richard added: ‘The law isn’t the refusal of the dog it’s the refusal of me because of the dog.

‘He’s like a crutch, without him I wouldn’t do it, therefore it’s that discrimination of me because of my dog.’

A guide by the Equality and Human Rights Commission says ‘treating someone unfavourably because of something connected to their disability’, like having an assistance animal, is a form of unlawful discrimination.

Restaurants with a ‘no dogs’ policy would have to disapply the rule or make some other kind of reasonable adjustment to comply with the law.

Richard says he’s heard of a few cases of people being turned away for the same reason and thinks more workplace training on the matter is needed.

Ex-British army medic Richard Mearns and support dog Ziggy
The veteran struggled to enjoy his meal at a nearby Thai restaurant afterwards (Picture: Richard Mearns)
Richard says staff at nearby Thai Square ‘didn’t bat an eyelid’ when they walked in with Ziggy and asked for a table for two and even offered a bowl of water for the dog.

But by this point he felt so humiliated that he ‘didn’t really want to eat’ as his ‘hands were shaking’.

This meant Ziggy had to work to calm him down when in an ideal situation he could have got some kip under the table.

Richard says his dog works around the clock and jumps to his aid when he suffers flashbacks in the middle of the night.

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He added: ‘For me with PTSD it’s quite a difficult thing for me to go into these places anyway because of the nature of it.

‘It makes my life a lot more stressful and a lot more difficult. I didn’t subsequently enjoy going out for a meal as much as I would have.’ has contacted Shapur Indian Restaurant for comment.