A cafe has defended its decision to effectively bar a blind man with learning disabilities as his guide dog is ‘too large and fluffy’.Staff at the Star Cafe in Sidcup, south-east London , repeatedly turned away Stephen Vallance, 44, his mum Ann and his Alsatian-Labrador cross, Wills – who is neither particularly large nor fluffy.
He was told to either sit outside in the cold or leave, despite laws banning businesses from discriminating against guide dog owners.
Ann claims they had been turned away from the same cafe on a previous visit with Stephen’s last guide dog, Linton, a black Labrador who passed away two years ago. On their second visit with Wills, hoping to have breakfast, they were turned away despite being accompanied by a guide dog trainer.
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The cafe claimed there was not enough room for the three of them, even though neither type of dog is exceptionally lage.Stephen Vallance said: ‘He [the cafe owner] is an arrogant pig. I think he’s got an attitude problem. I think he doesn’t like dogs, but it’s not fair on blind people.
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‘What he is saying is rubbish, we’ve been into other cafes, pubs, shops. Wills is a normal size dog.’Ann added: ‘Wills is still in training, but he acts as the eyes for Stephen. We didn’t actually step foot through the door, but a customer who was outside told us to sit outside.
‘But why should we – there is no reason for that. Stephen had a transplant a few years back, so he feels the cold a lot more than others. This should have never happened.’
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A spokesperson for the cafe said: ‘You know, I’ve known them [Ann and Stephen] for years. The guide dog is too large and fluffy.
‘The people in the coffee shop do not like it, so we lose customers. She appeared the other day with the large dog but there was no room.
‘She doesn’t understand – she just thinks because there’s a guide dog, they can go anywhere they want and sit anywhere they like, but it doesn’t work that way.
‘We’ve got tables and chairs outside, and she doesn’t want that. That’s the reason why I won’t let them in again.’
The charity Guide Dogs UK slammed the cafe’s ‘illegal’ actions as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘extremely disappointing’. Clive Wood, lead regional policy and campaigns manager at Guide Dogs, said: ‘It’s completely unacceptable that Stephen and his mother Ann were put in this position.
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‘It’s utterly shocking an access refusal took place even after Stephen and Ann explained Wills was a working guide dog.
‘All blind and partially sighted people deserve to be able to live their lives the way they want, and feel confident, independent and supported in the world.
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‘It is illegal for a business or service to refuse entry to a customer with a guide dog, yet, sadly, it happens all too often.
‘Our research shows that three-quarters of guide dog owners have experienced access refusals, and this is a clear form of discrimination.’
Previous studies have found around 72% of guide dog owners say it negatively affects their ability to socialise.
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