Even though service dogs help so many people in a myriad of ways, some establishments still refuse to allow them. One particular Canadian restaurant crossed the line when they forcibly removed a man on the autism spectrum for bringing his service dog inside without showing papers.
Another customer at Milton’s in Kitchener, Ontario, filmed the incident, during which Justin Leckie, a man with Asperger’s, was accosted. In the video that since went viral, the restaurant owners scream and swear at Leckie, insisting that he and his service dog Eponine leave.
An Upsetting Incident Caught On Camera
In the distressing opening seconds of the video, you can hear Leckie begging, “leave me alone,” as he’s manhandled by restaurant staff. Concerned patrons gather around the confrontation, demanding the staff stop hassling Leckie.
“I have her license,” Leckie insists. Epi, trained to be calm in stressful situations, shows no aggression towards anyone the whole time. The same can’t be said for the restaurant owners, who continue to grab Leckie and yell at him.
Watch the video (if you can stomach it) below. Note: the video contains profanity. Viewer discretion is advised.
What Sparked The Confrontation
The videographer’s caption notes that the restaurant’s owners refused the service dog and then became hostile when the paying customer wouldn’t leave. Leckie later explained to CTV News he didn’t know who the people demanding Epi’s certification were prior to the incident escalating.
“I don’t just show my papers to anybody. She helps me with general anxiety, panic attack, depression, that type of thing.”
One of Milton’s owners, Dionisios Gianopoulos, told CTV this has nothing to do with allowing service dogs. He insists it was about Leckie’s response to a request for his service dog permit.
“Of course we want everybody to come here, we’re a business. We had nothing to do with the dog. We said the dog has to have a permit. You don’t show [it], dog not allowed.”
In the video, Milton’s owners claim they asked Leckie a hundred times to leave, and he refused. Leckie told CTV:
“I resisted because I said ‘No, I haven’t done anything wrong. They weren’t having any of it. They said if you don’t get up right now we’re dragging you out right now. And they did.”
Reportedly, the person filming also called the police. Waterloo Regional Police Service says their investigation is ongoing.
A Supportive Community Rallies Around Justin & Eponine
After the incident was caught on camera and uploaded to Facebook, outraged customers bombed the restaurant’s pages with negative reviews (it now has a 1.6 rating on Yelp). Protestors also picketed the restaurant to raise awareness of autism and the importance of service dogs.
Jordan Tanee, who works at a different local establishment, commented on the viral video in defense of Leckie and Eponine:
“I have served this gentleman and his service animal multiple times at my workplace. He is the kindest of customers and his service dog is incredibly behaved. There is absolutely no reason for this treatment. The trauma these people have caused is unbelievable. I am in shock watching this.”
Mike Hejmej, another restauranteur in the area, posted this on Facebook:
“To the gentleman who was assaulted at Milton’s yesterday – you are invited with open arms to come to our family restaurant nearby. Please bring your service dog. Your meal is on us. Stay as long as you’d like.”
Eponine’s Valuable Partnership With Her Handler
Epi was certified as a service dog in April 2018 by Working Paws. Prior to that, she trained for between 400 and 700 hours with Leckie.
“Epi basically applies deep pressure if he get anxious, that type of thing,” Doug Chivas, the owner of Working Paws, said.
Chivas, who watched the upsetting footage, felt horrified by the way Leckie was treated.
“It was extremely, extremely distressing watching the dog go through this, and Justin to go through that.”
Since the video went viral, there have been a lot of questions about service dogs and whether they should be allowed in certain spaces. Kelly Wilson, the development coordinator for Autism Ontario, explained how important their presence is to people with autism:
“Service dogs allow for individuals on the spectrum to experience what we all experience with that support.”
Learn more about how dogs can help people with autism here.