Murrianna Reese has three children, ranging in age from eight to 15, who all struggle with health conditions. The eldest, Zach, has autism, and his sister, Mystique, suffers from deafness and autism. Logan, the youngest, has epilepsy, a brain injury, and nonverbal autism.
All three of the children, who live in Murray Bridge, Australia, depend collectively on the family’s yellow labrador retriever, Hunter, who is a registered assistance dog.
“Hunter helps all of them go out and about and helps us as parents take them out and about in society,” says Reese. “He just supports them daily, not just them, us as parents as well.”
One of the biggest jobs Hunter has is to keep Logan from running off. Hunter follows him if he runs away to keep him out of harm, and Logan has almost completely stopped trying to escape now that his trusty service dog is around.
The family, of course, was excited to take Hunter on vacation with them, knowing what a big help he would be making sure the Reese children stayed safe and comfortable at their resort destination. Their support worker organized a visit to Marion Holiday Park in Adelaide and made sure to mention that an assistance dog would be among the guests. All was going swimmingly…until…
When the Reese family arrived at the resort, they informed staff that they had their service dog with them as a courtesy to the staff, but they never expected the response they got.
Reese says a staff member told her that there were no pets allowed in the resort. The dog would not be allowed to come onto the property.
“I said he’s not a pet, he’s an assistance dog and I showed them my ID,” says Reese, who admits that the ID she was carrying had expired. She says Hunter has also come along with them to the same resort before, so she believes the staff had no right to refuse him.
“[Staff] made a phone call to the owner and said, ‘Because he is not a vision-impaired [assistance] dog, we can refuse access to him,'” says Reese. “We informed them I was going to make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission about this and that it can face up to a $10,000 fine. One of them actually said, ‘We’ll take that fine,’ so I filed a formal complaint yesterday.”
For the time being, however, Reese had no choice but to take the entire family back to Murray Bridge. They had prepaid for their vacation, so they were unable to find other accommodations in the area that fit their budget. The kids, she says, were devastated.
“My daughter broke down and was crying inconsolably. It’s completely traumatised [Logan] that he’s not allowed to have Hunter with him, and I’m going to have to deal with that and try to calm him down.”
A spokesperson for Marion Holiday Park said she regrets “the inconvenience to Murrianna Reese and her family” but that the dog simply could not be allowed in due to his documentation being expired. “While we do not accept pets into the park, we welcome and accommodate accredited or certified assistance dogs.”
Reese says Hunter is registered with the SA Dog and Cat Management Board and has public access rights to all the same places her children can go. The board’s website states that proper accredidation is “not an absolute requirement for a person with a disability to claim public access rights due to the protection that is available under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992.”
Assistance dogs can be wonderful helpers and companions for people with autism, but, sadly, there are still people in the world who don’t understand how a dog can assist someone with an invisible condition or why they should be allowed to go to all the places their human can. Share this story to remind others that service dogs are allowed anywhere their humans are allowed.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?