Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff Cara Penney believes her emotional support dog, Butch, should have been allowed to attend her mental wellness class.

Emotional support dog ejected from Red Deer mental health class

Pet recommended by psychiatrist

A Red Deer woman is upset after she was told to leave a mental wellness class because her emotional support dog wasn’t welcome.

“It’s pretty pathetic when you’re being kicked out of a place that’s suppose to be helping you with your mental illness,” said Cara Penney, who was told Butch, a Pomeranian-Chihuahua, was unwelcome at the Ways to Wellness class held at the 49th Street Community Health Centre Thursday morning.

She said there were members of the group who enjoyed having Butch in the room, but staff told her policy did not allow the dog.

Penney said her dog has been permitted to attend sessions in the same building when she visits counsellors, including the one who recommended she take the class.

“I needed to be there today, and he just shuffled me out the door,” she said of the employee.

”They’re lucky I didn’t have a mental breakdown with what I’m going through right now. It doesn’t make any sense at all. I’d like to see their policy.”

Penney said she is worried other clients with support dogs have been denied access to programs at the clinic. She fears they may consider harming themselves when they’re told to leave their animal at home.

She said it’s time to take a stand.

“When you’re wronged, you’re wronged. You have to do something about it, otherwise, they’re going to do it to other people.”

Penney carries a note from a psychiatrist that recommends she have an emotional support dog, and she got Butch in March.

“When I’m sad, he brings me happiness. He’s a good companion.”

And the playful dog, who eagerly greets strangers, has a positive impact on others, she said.

“I’ve had guys downtown in their suits come down from their offices to take a picture with him,” Penney said.

In a statement, Alberta Health Services said that it understands that for many people, a dog or other kind of pet can provide important support, and can help them through challenging times.

“The bond between an owner and their pet is significant. However, we must ensure that we strike a balance between acknowledging and supporting that bond, and ensuring that other people are also comfortable having a dog nearby,” AHS said.

“In the case of a group setting, staff must weigh the needs of an individual with whether the goals of a group are best served by the introduction of an animal.

“We have to take into consideration issues such as allergies or anxieties that other members of a group may have. We also have to consider if other members of a group are comfortable having a dog at a session, or if they have had bad experiences with dogs in the past.”

AHS said if a client is dissatisfied with a decision, an alternative service option can generally be provided. For example, in many cases, one-on-one services are offered at which a support dog can be present. This option was provided in this particular case, it said.

“Policies on pets in AHS facilities do vary by site. Emotional support animals do not have the same designations or protections as designated service animals.

“Management and staff must make the best decision for each context, based on a number of factors that govern most sites,” AHS said.

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