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Service dog for autistic child not allowed on Vancouver whale watching boats

WATCH:  An Ontario family vacationing in BC is crying foul after they were turned away by two whale-watching tours because of their autistic son’s assistance dog. John Hua has the story.

A Toronto family says they will file a human rights complaint after three separate whale watching companies in Vancouver wouldn’t allow their autistic son’s service dog to go on their vessels.

“We’re well-traveled, we’ve gone to the Caribbean, we’ve gone to Europe, and this is the first time that this has happened, and it happened here at home, in Canada,” says Adelina Cotognini.

“It’s very saddening to me.”

Her 12-year-old son Adam has a service dog, Hitch, that is tethered to him. It makes sure Adam doesn’t wander away, and also calms him down.

But when Cotognini tried to book spots on two different Vancouver whale watching companies – Vancouver Whale Watching and Steveston Seabreeze Adventures – they were denied because of Adam’s dog.

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“Both of them gave excuses like their customers are allergic to dogs, or deathly afraid of dogs, and that was it. One said he had never had a service dog and never will…and said his insurance policy backs him up on that,” says Adelina

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They later tried booking with a third whale watching company, one that had a ferry-like vessel, but they were denied there as well.

WATCH: Extended interview with Cotognini

Laws for guide and service dogs in Canada allow them to go anywhere their human handlers can go.

“Under the Guide Animal Act, an individual with a disability who is accompanied by a certified guide dog has the same rights and responsibilities as a person without a dog. They must be allowed access to restaurants, taxis, buses or any other location where the general public is allowed,” states the government on the Ministry of Justice’s website.

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But it appears whale watching operators believe otherwise. Global News asked a tour operator with CVS Tours in Victoria whether a service dog would be allowed on one of their trips, and the answer was an unequivocal no.

“Unfortunately, they said no pets allowed,” says the ticket attendant.

“It’s a bummer rule, but it is what it is. We can’t really change anything, but I wish I could.”

The situation frustrates Cotognini.

“By law…Hitch is allowed to go with Adam in every public place. He goes to school with him, he’s in every part of his life, because that’s the point. It’s never posed a problem. He’s been on an airplane, three types of cruises. There’s never been a problem until today,” she says.

“It’s more disappointing because we’re at home.”

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