From left, Mark Webster, paralegal; David Renton, barrister; James McCafferty with his service dog, Kizzie; Katy Tyrrell-McCafferty; Adam Marley, paralegal; and Rhein Davies, solicitor.
A Letterkenny woman and her son, who has autism, were awarded £22,000 in damages and legal costs after a London shopkeeper refused to allow the young man to bring his assistance dog into the shop.
Katy Tyrrell McCafferty said the case has set a precedent for adults and children with disabilities who need service or assistance dogs.
“Service dogs are not just for people with a visual impairment,” she said.
“Jimmy will make a difference to the lives of service dog users in the UK, and hopefully in Ireland, because he’s an Irish child,” Mrs McCafferty said.
In March of 2015, Mrs McCafferty and James could not top up their Oyster card in a convenience shop in the Limehouse area of London because they had James’ assistance dog with them.
They won damages of £6,775 last Thursday at Bow County Court in London. Shopkeeper Dudu Miah was also ordered to pay legal costs of £15,225.49.
Mrs McCafferty had claimed disability discrimination because Mr. Miah, the owner of DM News in east London, had refused to serve them and put them out of the shop.
Kizzy, the assistance dog, is a labradoodle. The dog is trained by the specialist charity My Canine Companion to assist James, who was 11 when he received Kizzy, and to maintain his safety while he is outdoors.
Jimmy, as he is known, has autism and part of his condition means that he is sensitive to noise and can suddenly take off running, which means he could easily run into traffic or other dangers.
Jimmy, now 14, is connected to Kizzy via a special harness and belt that goes around his midsection. If Jimmy were to run, Kizzy would sit down hard and stop him from running away. But their bond goes deeper.
“He is attached to the dog emotionally and not just physically,” Mrs McCafferty said, adding, that since Jimmy has had Kizzy, “it has changed our lives.
“I have two children and could not take them out together on my own before. I had to chose one child or the other,” she said. “Being attached to Kizzy, interacting with her and twirling her fur has calmed him down so much when we are out and about that Jimmy has not wanted to bolt at all.”
Mrs McCafferty said Kizzy was like “an extra pair of hands” for her.
She said she and her son were treated “disgracefully” that day in the shop last year. “Jimmy needed to have Kizzy with him,” she recalled.
She said she brought the case to make sure that disabled children and adults who need assistance dogs can go about ordinary daily tasks, without fear of discrimination and harassment.
“I now understand why people don’t bring these cases as it has been very stressful and has taken me a year and a half to get to court,” Mrs McCafferty said. But she said she was glad she had brought the case.
The solicitor acting for Jimmy, social justice lawyer, Rheian Davies of DH Law Ltd said, “The Equality Act provides for disabled children and adults who need the services of an assistance dog. Shop owners such as Mr Miah who have a ‘No dogs’ policy have to relax that policy in cases such as this, in order to meet the legal requirement of making a ‘reasonable adjustment’.”
She said these provisions were well known in the cases of guide dogs for people who are blind, but less so for the many dogs that help people with other disabilities.
”Nonetheless, Jimmy is a disabled child and to refuse to serve him because he has an assistance dog is unlawful discrimination,” Ms Davies said.
“This case was never about monetary gain,” Mrs. McCafferty said. She said she had asked the judge whether the money could go to autism-related charities but was told the funds must go to Jimmy, and will be held in trust for him.