Richard Mearns served his country in Iraq and came back home bearing the invisible scars of PTSD. Shortly after his diagnosis in 2009, he met the most important friend he would ever make as a veteran, his support Labrador Ziggy.
Ziggy helps Mearns with ‘a multitude of tasks,’ UNILAD reports, keeping crippling anxiety attacks from getting in the way of enjoying life. When Mearns feels the pressure of anxiety coming on, Ziggy often senses it first, pressing his head into his human’s side to keep him grounded in reality. When Mearns suffers from flashbacks in the middle of the night, Ziggy will whine or jump on the bed to bring him back.
Mearns relies on Ziggy to live his life free of fear, but when the pair walked into the Shapur Indian Restaurant in Strand, central London, Mearns was told to leave because Ziggy was not welcome.
The veteran was made to feel “sick and embarrassed” about his condition, UNILAD reports.
“I don’t need extra stress as it can be challenging at times to carry out what would otherwise be normal day-to-day tasks,” he said.
Mearns eventually found another restaurant next door that welcomed both he and Ziggy.
“I asked why he was discriminating against me because all I want to do is have a normal life. I then asked if I was blind and had a Guide dog would he refuse me, [but] he said no animals, I am calling my manager,” Mearns told UNILAD. “I responded with: ‘forget it I am going next door [because] I knew the restaurant next door had no issues.'”
Sadly, this isn’t the first time Mearns and Ziggy have been treated differently than other restaurant patrons. Mearns said he has been refused entry into other establishments while being accompanied by Ziggy. On at least one case this resulted in Mearns heading straight home without eating.
Mearns advocates for better visibility and education around assistance dogs, in the hopes that this practice will not be so easily justified in the future. He now travels Britain, sharing his own story with anyone who is willing to listen. If they feel motivated enough to spread the word, Mearns considers it a success.
Our veterans deserve better than to be turned away from a meal. Assistance dogs can help them carry the weight of daily life, and GreaterGood.org has a program to help train those dogs up right.
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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.