It was a frustrating and traumatic encounter for a Calgary man with a service dog.
Lucas Durfey, 26, went to the Shawnessy Walmart in the city’s southeast on Tuesday with his trained companion, his poodle, Lisa.
“Besides just being my companion — which is very important — she is trained to assist me opening doors, picking things up when I drop things, or my favorite — she is very protective and watching me,” Durfey said.
Durfey is just as protective of Lisa. He said he was going to pick up a handful of groceries when he was questioned by staff. He felt defensive.
“He asked if she was my service animal and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he wanted a license,” Durfey said.
Durfey was involved in a car crash several years ago and suffered a brain injury. He lost almost all of his voluntary muscle control, including his ability to speak. He said it was a challenging interaction with the employee when the situation escalated.
“I was reaching something from a shelf and he grabbed my leash and tried pulling her away from me,” Durfey said.
“It’s very hard to explain the feeling, but helpless.
“I just wasn’t given a chance to explain or defend myself.”
Calgary police were called and the situation was resolved, but Durfey said all businesses should treat people like him with respect and dignity.
“I am just really passionate about this,” he said. “Imagine that happening to someone with even less communication skills and no family support.”
Durfey’s sister, Sydnee Smith, said she’s proud of how far her brother has come and doesn’t want him to be treated differently.
“Luc has worked so hard to get his independence and he puts himself out in the community a lot and we are so happy to see him do that,” Smith said. “But in the back of my mind I think ‘what if?’ What if he encounters someone who doesn’t understand him and his needs?”
She hopes Walmart staff learn from this experience.
“I hope they realize they need to put in a little work and take this as an opportunity to do better and be better,” Smith said.
“His accident took everything away from him so it’s been awesome to watch him persevere and work hard to get where he’s at and inspiring to watch him never give up.”
In a statement to Global News on Friday, a Walmart representative said the company is aware of the incident and has launched an investigation.
The company said it has also reached out to Lucas’ father.
“Service and support animals are welcomed,” the statement read. “In cases where the animal entering our store is not visibly recognizable as a service or support animal, our customers can expect they may be asked to provide documentation confirming the animal is a service or support animal.”