A family from Belleville was given a private tour of the Riverview Park and Zoo in Peterborough Monday, after Ashley Wright and her 13-year-old son Logan, who has severe autism, say they were the target of some discriminatory comments earlier this month.
Riverview Park and Zoo staff, along with members of the Peterborough Police Service, joined Logan and his family on the tour, where he was given some behind the scenes access to a handful of animal exhibits and was even given the chance to feed his favourite animals at the zoo, the camels.
“This meant so much to me, not only seeing Logan, but Brinlee, too, and seeing how happy they were,” said Wright. “Being able to come back and just seeing how happy he was to pet the camels and to feed some of the animals was just amazing.”
It was all smiles at the zoo today, but it was just two weeks prior where a friendly visit went from good to bad after an interaction with a man they said used some discriminatory language towards them.
“He proceeded to yell at me and ask why I would take a child like that out in public because they ruin society,” said Wright, but she chose not to respond as she didn’t want to upset her son.
Logan lives with severe autism and is non-verbal, but does communicate through some words and sounds. His mother says he gets anxious in public, especially when strangers raise their voices.
When she got home, she wrote a 1,000-word post on Facebook and directed it to the man who had offended herself and her family. The post didn’t go unnoticed, either, and was shared more than 13,000 times and prompted a personal response from zoo officials.
“I think it’s an important follow up to the incident,” said Jim Moloney, manager and curator of the Riverview Park and Zoo. “To make it very clear that our community and the zoo itself is very welcoming and open and supportive to everybody.”
The Belleville family were thrilled to be back at the zoo this time, as Logan and his sister, Brinlee, were given the behind the scenes look at the camel enclosure and got to pet and feed Baika, the one-year-old camel who is new to the zoo.
Wright said the family was able to leave the zoo feeling better this time.
“I definitely left feeling very down and sad that day, and so this day has definitely made up for it,” said Wright. “I can’t say thank you enough to everybody.”
The Peterborough Police say they were deeply offended to hear about the incident and also wanted to show their support to the family and help educate the public about inclusion and compassion.
“We are all about inclusion,” said Grant Eastwood, community services officer with the Peterborough police. “We don’t want to separate or single out people because of their differences but make people aware of the differences and educate everyone…..that we are all different and it doesn’t make anyone any worse or any better than someone else.”
The trip to the zoo was emotional for the family, but helped to reassure them it’s a place where they can still come visit and feel safe.
“To come in here and see how the zoo supported us was just great to see,” said Logan’s nana, Jai Wright. “And you could tell he was happy, reaching out and touching their fur. It was just fantastic.”